2014-04-18 / Columnists

School Scope

High Stakes Testing Opt-Out Movement Takes Off
By Norm Scott

Norman Scott Norman Scott Stories of numerous parents in the city and around the state who have begun a revolt against high stakes testing by having their children refuse to take the tests have recently broken into the mainstream media. Even school principals in Brooklyn and Manhattan have led post-ELA test rallies outside their schools over the impropriety of many of the tests based on the common core curriculum. Quite an achievement by organized groups of parents and progressive teachers who just a year ago were being deemed “oddballs.”

Yes, we are in the midst of the high stakes testing season and the education wars keep heating up between the real reformers who want to make schools inviting spaces for children, teachers and parents and the corporate style ed deformers who are trying to turn the nation’s schools into a mini-me of the corporate model.

High stakes tests and the common core nationally imposed curriculum have become the battle ground. The corporate mentality feeds on “data” and with few economic resources to fight against the billions on the other side, real reformers are using the optout movement as a “deny them the data” campaign.

The more than a decade old battle has morphed as many parents of younger children have seen how the focus on tests damage their children psychologically and educationally as schools focus more and more time on test prep. Once the tests are over (in a few weeks) everyone breathes a sigh of relief. The change of atmosphere in schools is palpable. Trips, projects, more interesting curriculum become more common. But there is also a cost as the sense of the school year being over is felt in early May. Teachers start disappearing to be sent to other schools to mark the exams, the results of which are not known until the summer, thus becoming useless as a tool for the teachers to use to improve their current students’ learning.

A word of explanation. I am not talking about removing standardized tests from the equation, but to deemphasize them in the use as a one snapshot a year of a child’s learning to make judgments about them, their schools and their teachers. And I am not talking about the kinds of tests high school kids take to get into colleges where there can be intense pressure. I am talking about subjecting 8-yearolds to the same kinds of pressure we used to reserve for 17-year-old high school kids (and increasingly people are thinking we should not be doing that to them either).

A few years ago I was part of a group of teachers and parents who founded ChangeTheStakes.org (CTS) to inform parents around the city of the impact high stakes testing was having on their children’s’ education. CTS has put out a series of materials to support parents who want to opt their children out of the tests by addressing issues of whether their child will be promoted or get into the middle school of their choice if they don’t take the test (new rules protect these children from retaliatory actions). Also on the agenda has been what the children will be doing while the others are taking the test. Some school systems require those children to “sit and stare” in the same classrooms – do nothing. There has been a revolt against those policies with calls on schools to provide meaningful activities.

There is still time to opt out of this year’s math tests. If you are a potential opt-out parent you can contact CTS at changethestakes@gmail.com or check out the website.

Teachers are also beginning to take a stand. Some NYC teachers at the Earth School on the Lower East Side have formed a group called “Teachers of Conscience” and have refused to give the tests. teachersofconscience. wordpress.com.

Teacher asks for help for research project at Channel View: Were you a resident of the Rockaways during WW II, or served in WW II? Would you consider being interviewed about your experiences? We are seeking individuals to share their memories of life during WW II. Channel View School for Research’s 8th grade students are exploring life during wartime and the impact it had on the Rockaway residents. We are also investigating the imprint Fort Tilden has left on the peninsula and are petitioning the National Park Service to consider why it is worth preserving. Please contact Annette Malloy at 718-634-1970, or AMalloy@ schools.nyc.gov if you are interested.

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