We are Americans

Opting Out of Governor Cuomo’s Attack on Public Education

Bianca Tanis, Ulster County resident and co-founder of NYS Allies for Public Education, eloquently shares the narrative of failure being imposed upon our children by Governor Cuomo’s education reforms and continued reliance upon high stakes testing.

The attack on public education in New York State is taking place on several fronts. On one front, our schools are being underfunded and starved of resources. On the other front, our schools are deemed ineffective, and two thirds of our children are labeled as failures. Policies have been put into place claiming to foster equity and access. Ironically, these reforms have resulted in a test driven education in which children are ranked and sorted by test scores and the needs of the highest and lowest performing students are sidelined. Young children sit for tests that rival the SATs in length while students with disabilities as young as 10 sit for more than 18 hours of testing.

Rather than addressing the very real challenges created by poverty and disproportionate school funding, Governor Cuomo wants to double down on the use of draconian “test and punish” policies that emphasize test scores over teaching.

I urge you to read Bianca’s entire post but if you are not able to do so, I would like to highlight a few points.

There are significant fears that a New York State diploma is going to become unattainable for many students.  Every student will have to pass the New York State Regents tests which will be aligned to the common core to earn a diploma.  The GED will also be aligned to the common core.  There are no other diploma options available in New York State.  If you remember local or IEP diplomas, they are both gone.  The new Career Development and Occupational Studies credential (CDOS) for special education students is NOT a diploma.

Because we have now back mapped and correlated success at every level to this bizarre metric [a 1630 on the SAT], a high school diploma will soon be out of reach for many students. This is especially true as NYS has now tied every diploma to a high stakes test, eliminating the local diploma and aligning the new GED with the common core. Starting with the freshman class of 2017, NYS will require “career and college ready” passing scores on the Regents exams required for graduation. If these score requirements were put into place right now, only 5% of students with disabilities and less than 16% of African American and Hispanic students would have graduated in 2014.

The new Career Development and Occupational Studies credential is the ONLY commencement credential available to students with disabilities who cannot pass the Regents with modified passing scores. It precludes a student from taking a civil service exam, attending technical school or college, or joining the military. To date, the NYS Department of Education has NOT launched any major public awareness campaigns to inform the labor force and employers of its existence yet students have already begun to leave high school with this little known credential as their only entry to employment. At a time where the school to prison pipeline persists and individuals with disabilities struggle to find long term employment, these reforms will likely widen the achievement gap and lead to fewer opportunities.

Parents have attempted to sound the clarion about charter schools, refusal to give adequate funding to schools/inequitable funding, inappropriate use of test scores of students, labeling children/teachers/schools as failures, unfunded mandates, loss of fieldtrips/library/music, use of untested policies/standards, lack of respect for teachers’ experience but “while those in power may be hearing us, unfortunately they are not listening.”

The attack on public education has many moving parts and they are intricately linked. Ultimately, high stakes testing is the hub around which they all revolve.

That is why alongside tens of thousands of other parents, my family is refusing the NYS Common Core tests. It is a necessary act of civil disobedience to safeguard public education for every child in NYS.

We are refusing because patronizing these tests gives tacit approval to a system that serves few and harms many. We are refusing because we reject shoddy and illogical education practices that do not support individual learning, and because we object to valuable learning time being co-opted to generate a data point that is used to punish. We are refusing because we can’t support practices that squander our schools limited resources, erode local control and have not resulted in better outcomes for our children. We are refusing because we will not be part of a practice the harms all children, but especially children of color, children who learn differently, and children living in poverty.

We are refusing the tests because we know that loss of funding due to test refusals is a myth, and because we know that legislation passed last March prevents a school from using state test scores as the sole, or even the majority factor in placement decisions. We are refusing the tests because we believe in assessment and accountability, but not at the expense of children’s dignity or their education. We are refusing because we know there is a better way.

So until we reframe the conversation, until we redefine the term high standards to mean universal preschool, equitable school funding, schools that honor the interests, strengths and culture of every child, education policies and learning standards that are rooted in research and empirical evidence, schools where the diversity of educators mirrors the diversity that children see in their communities, assessment practices that have been vetted for cultural and economic bias and do no harm, until every school has a librarian, a social worker, reasonable class sizes, until the benefits of play, exploration, and creative inquiry are valued, and until we begin to value the expertise of experienced educators….we will continue to opt out.

Bianca has so eloquently stated the reasons for REFUSING the state tests that we will be adopting them as our own family reasons for refusing.  Thank you Bianca!

Not job to toughen children