"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, May 21, 2012

NYC Parents Infuriated Over "Valueless" Test

There's a lot of talk of VAM (value added measures) these days as the new tool and solution to closing the achievement gap. VAM is popular with corporate ed deformers because it's now obvious the ones being used over the past decade under NCLB  used to declare students, teachers and schools failures, have actually been a huge failure. Unfortunately for the architects of this brilliant education policy, the economic crisis is causing the entire testing craziness to crumble under its own weight. With huge budget gaps and deep cuts to programs, services, and teachers at the same time class sizes have increased across city and across the country, we might be in the midst of a perfect storm strong enough to blow the cover off these valueless, worthless, measuring tools and bogus formulas once and for all.

Today it has been reported that parents in NYC are the latest group to organize, protest and stand up to the child abuse being perpetuated by the explosion in standardized tests costing taxpayers millions of dollars and making their children anxious, sick and uninterested in school.

Meanwhile, as the income gap and achievement gap have widened into a gaping chasm between the haves and have nots throughout classrooms and communities -- as child poverty, homelessness, hunger, unemployment and health problems continue to rise, there is no longer anywhere for these valueless testers to hide -- it just doesn't add up.

 This great awakening of parents, not only in NYC, but all across the country, who see more standardized tests are clearly a stupid waste of time and money when there are so many more important priorities and needs. The economic crisis, Great Recession, depression, or whatever you call it, will quicken the demise of the testing industrial complex as more citizens demand the billions of dollars being spent be redirected to really improving education.

And, for those who still believe market driven education reform and competition is a good model for education, or business leaders and the politicians in their pockets should be dictating curriculum and pedagogy,  obviously they are not reading the business news. A few days ago, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt filed for bankruptcy but no worries there because they managed to magically restructure the $3 billion in debt. Hmmm...looks like a failing company to me.  Who will step in and shut it down and take it over, institute new management, fire employees, cut costs? Apparently, everything is just fine at the world's largest textbook publishing company. In fact, management states it does not plan to lay off any employees and the company's future is as bright as ever.

Parents, there's not much value there either.

Parents from Williamsburg to Riverdale say the state’s high-stakes standardized testing regimen is out of control and a serious threat to their children’s education.
Why have so many parents across New York City decided that this year’s state standardized tests are not merely distracting, educationally valueless and overly determinative, but also damaging, twisted and intolerable? How have they become this year’s radicalizing experience for thousands of new parent-activists determined to change the direction that education policy is taking in New York?

Last year, the threatened teacher lay-offs and across the board budget cuts galvanized organized opposition, and sparked the realization among tens of thousands of NYC public school parents that the governor and the mayor’s office do not hold the interests of “students first.” This year new parents are joining a growing and increasingly organized activist group that is opposed to high-stakes standardized testing. The parents and guardians of whom I write, from Williamsburg, Bed-Stuy and Park Slope in Brooklyn, East Tremont and Riverdale in the Bronx, Washington Heights/Inwood and the Lower East Side in Manhattan, and all over Queens, have independently concluded that high-stakes standardized testing is this year’s assault on quality public education. And we have had enough. So, what is it exactly about this year’s tests that have pushed us to the breaking point?

To start, one must recall that these tests come on the heels of the failure of the state to truly deliver on the settlement associated with a 17-year Campaign for Fiscal Equity (CFE) battle on behalf of New York City public school children to receive equitable education funding. On top of this, we have witnessed at least four years of budget cuts that have directly hit our children’s classrooms.  
As an example, my son’s school in Washington Heights has lost nearly a million dollars over four years with little drop in enrollment. Because of this, the school lost the elementary school art and science teachers, a middle-school assistant principal and class sizes in the first and second grades swelled to 28 students. Other schools in our district, District 6, the birthplace of the CFE, have classes with 32 students sitting in them.  
In this context of growing class sizes and dwindling budgets, we’ve seen little evidence that the supports the city Department of Education offers our schools counterbalance the negative effects of the budget cuts. School Support Organizations that may be trying to work with teachers to differentiate instruction are rendered impotent in the context of large classes. Other losses are also illustrative. Again my son’s K to 8 is an excellent example; in the spring of 2010 our school was set to receive the second installment of a GE Fund grant to improve science and math instruction in the middle school.  
Instead we awoke one morning to learn that the grant, intended originally for upper Manhattan schools, had been rescinded by the Fund for Public Schools, and redirected toward training teachers in 80 city-wide schools how to teach to the “new and improved” science tests under development. Thus the parents at our school learned that funds that could have actually helped our children’s teachers teach science and math more effectively were spent instead on standardized test prep training.    
Yet the discontent of many parents was softened in recent years as we watched our schools lauded forstate test score increases; it seemed our children were achieving unprecedented gains in performance. When the state admitted that these gains were fictional, that there had been rampant score inflation, and re-set the proficiency cut-points, we learned how subjective, at best, and political, at worst, these tests scores were. Trust in the state’s ability to administer reliable tests began to crumble, as well as in the policies that had been imposed by DOE in the name of improving education.  

(Rest of the story here: 

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