Opine I will

I am an elementary school teacher just trying to do the right thing

Archive for the month “April, 2015”

Cuomo and Tisch- Guilty !

The New York State Education Department and Governor Andrew Cuomo should be held accountable for abusing their authority and the children of our state.

Over the past two weeks, I was ordered to administer New York States Common Core assessments to 44% of my 5th grade class, while 56% of my students refused to take the test. They were all in the same room during the assessments, so I designed a quiet independent Language Arts activity for those not taking the test. I didn’t want to waste any potential ‘learning time’ for any of my students. They worked silently, without disturbing those struggling with the test, and afterwords they reported to me that they enjoyed the assignment and they were excited to share what they learned.

A parent complained and I was advised, after the first portion of the test,  to not have the other students working on anything else because it may be a violation of testing rules and that the Superintendent stated we couldn’t. So, for the last 4.5 hours 56% of my class was told that they can only read silently from their own novel while the others in the room struggled with the assessment. Under these conditions, I observed many of the students had a difficult time remaining silent and often disturbed those struggling with the tests.

Those children, who I had to order to sit quietly for 9 hours the past week while their peers struggled with their purposely confusing questions, were basically under arrest. Metaphorically handcuffing them to their desks, they were forced to sit quietly for an extremely long time (even those with attention deficit issues or hyperactivity issues). How many adults would subject themselves to that nonsense?

Those taking the test struggled with questions, day after day, that were unfair assessments of their capabilities. The Language Arts section of the tests consisted of way too many boring reading selections and were above a typical 5th grader’s reading level. The questions focused on minutia, lacked clarity, and played with the nuances of plausibility.

Over the past several years the Language Arts portion of the assessments always had poetry included in them. Often poems that were difficult and could be interpreted in many different ways were part of every assessment. Poetry has always been an integral part of my Language Arts curriculum.  I thought I met the challenge and that my students were well prepared to analyze just about any poem place in front of them. After all, that is part of our curriculum.  I was shocked to see that this year’s 5th grade assessments had no poetry in it. Why?

My students were prepared, but the evidence is mounting that these assessments are not about seeing if my students were prepared or are learning. There is a more sinister reason coming into focus.

The Math portion of the tests included multi- step problems that were beyond the capability of most 5th grade students. My students are capable of doing a typical 5th grade multi-step problem, but these questions were purposely misleading, often included a misdirecting clause and were often nonsensical and unrealistic.

We know that a student needs to use some background knowledge to understand a word problem.  I wonder how many students were confused when the star of a softball team hit the softball  a towering 2 yards and the others measured their distances against his.  Realistic? Hardly!  I wondered if my students really thought that knowing the fraction of the volume of a cubby used to store a teachers’ papers was a really something adults calculate.

A typical 5th grade math word problem in Pearson’s own Common Core aligned textbook has 3 or 4 steps that must be completed to solve. This year’s Pearson’s tests blew the lid off that. Students had to complete many more steps to solve these test questions. About as far from fair as you can get.

More evidence that these assessments are not about seeing if my students were prepared or are learning, that a sinister reason is coming unto focus.

I have been shouting that these tests are institutional child abuse and this week Cuomo confirmed my declaration that yes, the New York is using our children in a sinister way.

Read these excerpts from a Times Union Article:

“The grades are meaningless to the students,” Cuomo said in a brief press gaggle following an Association for a Better New York breakfast event in New York City.

“Cuomo said he believes they haven’t done a good job of publicizing the fact that the tests, for at least the next five years, won’t count at all for the students.”

“They can opt out if they want to, but on the other hand if the child takes the test, it’s practice and the score doesn’t count.”

Meaningless? Children subjected to headaches, anxiety, upset stomachs, a feeling of failure for meaningless tests!

Cuomo also says these tests are supposed to be used to evaluate teachers. That is using 9 hours of a child’s labor to do an adult’s job. Let’s not forget the imbedded field test items that Pearson sneaks in there to help them boost their corporate profits.

The evidence is overwhelming. The New York State Education Department and Governor Andrew Cuomo are guilty of abusing their authority and the children of our state.

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo and New York State Education Department’s Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch, are guilty as charged and should be forced to resign.

I will not be ashamed this year!

Almost a year ago I wrote ” Ashamed to be a Teacher” because I just finished administering the sixth day of New York State Common Core assessments. I was a facilitator in a process that made my 10 year old students struggle,to the point of frustration, to complete 6 days of 90 minute tests. I sat by as I watched my students attempt to answer questions that were beyond their abilities. I knew the test booklets I put in front of them contained questions that were written in a way that 95% of them had no chance of solving. I even tried to give my students a pep talk, in hopes of alleviating their angst, when I knew damn well they didn’t stand a chance. That day last year I knew I was part of the problem.I pledged  to double my efforts to stop this form of institution abuse.

And I did..

I attended the New York State United Teachers ( NYSUT) leadership institute. I made sure I attended as many  workshops, meetings, conferences and protests as I physically could. I helped plan Nassau County’s “Stand Up Speak Out for Education” forum. I reached out and educated parents who formed their own alliances. I increased my presence on social media, relentlessly driving the message that high stakes testing was institutional test abuse. I educated the members of my local to ensure that they knew and understood that we were at war with those who are looking to destroy public education for all.

I was not silent when my local elected officials tried to persuade parents that they were for public education while casting votes that have dire consequences for our schools.I confronted them, hounded them, and continue to do so.

But I am not alone..

All across New York State thousands of teachers, parents, and citizens are doing the same thing. I predict hundreds of thousands of parents will refuse to let their children take New York State’s Common Core tests next week. Parents and teachers have been standing arm in arm with a single voice exclaiming that it is time to stop this madness.

On April 1st, New York State adopted a new budget that failed to fully fund schools. This budget also provided provisions that doubled down on high stakes testing, eroded due process rights, and took aim at the livelihoods of every public school teacher. It also put every public school student smack dab in the middle of a political agenda fueled war.

Parents from across the state have been swarming to their legislators who voted for this budget and are demanding that they fix it. I have never witnessed this much vitriol and outrage at state senators in my lifetime.

Even though, I will be forced to administer these abusive tests this week, I will not be ashamed this year. I am proud of the many students in my class,  and across the state that will be refusing to take it. I am proud of the parents who stood up and demanded that we need to end this madness.  I am proud of my union sisters and brothers who have tirelessly educated their communities that our nation’s most important assets are under attack.

Yes, the tests will go on this year, but the data will be meaningless. Thanks to the multitudes that have put their shoulders into this battle, the pendulum is beginning to move in the direction we need it to go, ‘excelsior’!

I will not be ashamed this year, I am fired up and ready to win this war.

Outright lies, inaccurate information, and confusion

New York State Republican Senators and the Board of Regents Chancellor  are beginning to push back against the tsunami of parents and educators who are collectively calling their recent comments and vote a disaster.

During yesterday’s interview on the Brian Lehrer Show, Chancellor Tisch labeled parental and educator comments as nothing more than ‘noise and nonsense’ and attributes the many cases of anxiety in children to the rhetoric, language and tone of their concerned parents. She  doubled down on former Commissioner Kings comment that special interests are behind the recent uproar and that only the State Education Department is capable of having a ‘grown up’ conversation regarding reform. She claimed high stakes testing is the only way to identify income inequality and that the Common Core Standards actually designed to reduce the amount of testing given to children and she told us to calm down. She also warned us that it could take 10 years to get this right.

Senators all across the state chose yesterday to also push back. There have been reports of calls, letters and e-mails being sent to constituents and they all seem to have the same message. Don’t believe what you are being told, we voted for this bill because it is the best we could do.

Here is the e-mail I received from my State Senator Jack Martins followed by my response:

 Thank you for expressing your concerns about the education budget which was adopted by the legislature.  However, there has been confusion, inaccurate information, and in some cases outright lies reported by others about what this legislation actually entails.  For the record: 

  • The adopted budget rejected the evaluation system proposed by Governor Cuomo.  It DOES NOT require, stipulate, or even support his proposal that 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation be based on standardized testing results.  Rather than have the Governor or the Legislature, most of whom have no experience in the field of education, set evaluation criteria, we placed that in the hands of the State Education Department (SED) and the Board of Regents.  SED will develop recommendations by June 30th, which will ultimately be reviewed and considered by the Board of Regents.  They are the professionals responsible for setting all education policy in this state; they should be setting this as well. Importantly, they are independent agencies which the Governor does not control; he does not appoint the members of the Board of Regents nor the Commissioner of Education.  Taking politics out of this process is an important protection.

  • During the development process, SED is required to have a public comment period so that you and all other stakeholders have the opportunity to voice concerns, before any recommendations are finalized.  

  • The legislation specifically requires SED to come up with recommendations about how to reduce the amount of state and local testing for students.  These recommendations must be developed by June 1st.  

  • Unlike in the Governor’s original proposal, we allowed for local control to be part of evaluation guidelines through collective bargaining. Additionally, we stopped his plan requiring teachers to be evaluated by someone completely independent and outside of their school district.  Each school district can collectively bargain who, in addition to the regular observations by building principals, will perform classroom observations (e.g. other principals or personnel within the district).  The law requires evaluators to be trained to prevent someone lacking knowledge in public education from determining an educator’s fate. 

     As a parent, I understand that anything dealing with our children’s education is oftentimes an emotional issue, because we all want the best for our children.  We want them to get a great education and have every opportunity to succeed.  It’s untrue, and quite frankly offensive, for anyone to suggest otherwise. 

     Governor Cuomo’s proposal was wrong for both students and teachers.  That’s why we pushed back and negotiated what I believe is a far better alternative than what the Governor proposed.  Had we not done so by the April 1st budget deadline, the state constitution would have allowed the Governor to force us to choose between accepting his proposal in its entirety or shutting down the government.  For me, that option was unacceptable.

     Should you wish to review these components in greater detail, I have attached a copy of the bill sections dealing with these issues for your convenience.  If you have any questions, I’m happy to discuss them with you.

                                                                                Sincerely,

 

                                                                                JACK M. MARTINS

Jack,

For the record I agree, there have been outright lies. inaccurate information and confusion by those who have voted yes to the Governor’s budget.

For the record:

  • 100% of a teacher’s evaluation will be based on standardized test results. If you read the legislation, if a teacher gets an ineffective or developing score on the test portion of the evaluation, it does not matter what they receive on the other parts.  Thereby making the test 100% of the evaluation. That’s a fact, that’s why your vote was the wrong one.
  • You state that the SED will set evaluation criteria. So effectively you voted on an unknown. Just today Chancellor Tisch was questioned about the concerns raised on these evaluations. She claimed that the concerns were just “noise and nonsense” by ” special interest groups”. Your vote effectively passed the buck, but your constituents now see through this.
  • You claim the public will have input. How can we have input when Tisch refuses tio recognize the anxiety and stress put on children. She blames their anxiety on “rhetoric”. More like our input will be met with the same blank stares we witnessed during the forum you moderated in Mineola last year. Not promising and yet another reason why you should have voted no.
  •  The new legislation also allows outside evaluators as well as trained administrators from other buildings who may no nothing about the children in the classroom and peers from within. The legislation provided no funds to pay for the training or compensation for the evaluators. It also allows districts to choose yet another state exam ( some districts may choose this if it is a cheaper option).  This weakens the role of the building administrator as the instructional leader in their building and it has no pedagogical benefit. It merely will create ‘dog and pony shows’.
  • Let’s look at the state aid component, which you have left out. You promised us a complete elimination of the GEA. Our district will only be getting about 39% of the GEA lifted this year. That is 61% short of your promise.
  • The Senate, Assembly and the Regents all recommended anywhere from $1.8B-$2.2B in state aid. You settled for anywhere between $1.4B and $1.6B. Well short of our needs. Yet you gave yacht owners  tax breaks, claiming it creates jobs. Wouldn’t it be better to create jobs in education rather than cut jobs?
  • The budget also failed to address the damaging tax cap which has forced many districts into precarious financial difficulty.
  • To claim the deadline forced you to vote for this terrible budget, makes one wonder why the legislature allowed late budgets ( sometimes months late) in the past. Your argument doesn’t fly Jack.

 

Bottom line.. your vote on the budget was wrong. Your rationale on teacher evaluations is wrong. In 6 days the children in your district will be beginning 540 minutes of exams that are above their reading level, not age appropriate, and if past years is any indication they will be full of errors. You had the chance to end the abusive testing that does nothing to assess the child, drive instruction or improve education. It only abuses children.

 

I do appreciate, the dialogue and hopefully I can get you to change your mind and introduce real legislation that will end this madness. I am still willing to meet with you. Just give me a call.

 

Ralph Ratto

Today there will be many parents, children and educators standing in front of Jack Martins office calling him out for is vote. I am confident that other state senators will be hearing the same message from their own districts as well.

It’s time to end this madness.

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