At the request of the Kingston City School District to consider the advantages of encouraging my child to come to school well-rested and prepared to participate in the upcoming New York State math assessments beginning on April 30, 2014, this parent has considered the request and I would like to present my response.
KCSD Statement on Testing – April 10, 2014
The Kingston City School District respectfully requests that all parents consider the advantages of encouraging their children to come to school well-rested and prepared to participate in the upcoming New York State assessments. Participating in these tests has benefits for the individual student, their classmates, their teachers, and their school community as a whole.
I have been thinking and thinking about what possible benefit taking the upcoming New York State math assessment could possibly have for my child.
- If she takes the math assessment, she will be sitting in a room taking a test that serves no useful purpose for her personally for 9 hours*.
- If she refuses the test she can use that time to do something she enjoys immensely and which builds vocabulary and all sorts of other wonderful things – read!
- My daughter happens to be a good test taker so she does not need to practice test-taking for future tests, one of the suggested benefits below. In fact she gets plenty of test-taking practice on her graded tests that are required for her class grades and I can not imagine when she will ever take a test that requires the extended time required for the New York State assessments, using the tests as a ‘stepping stone’ below. My understanding is that the tests to be certified as a doctor or a lawyer are shorter than these assessments and the Regents test is definitely shorter since each Regents test is completed in a single morning or afternoon.
After all that thinking I can’t come up with any personal benefits for my daughter to take the New York State math test. In fact I believe that there is potential for my daughter and her fellow classmates to be hurt by taking the New York State tests. I won’t go into all the details but if you are not familiar with the wide variety of issues and concerns that many parents, teachers and even some school administrators have regarding standardized testing, please read this article which hits lots of key points.
Are the Tests Really High Stakes?
The state test results for students in grades 3-8 are not used to determine promotion or retention. They are never used in isolation in KCSD as an indicator of giftedness. They do not follow the student to high school and they are not included in a student’s high school transcript to determine class rank, scholarship eligibility, or college admission. Selection for honors level classes in grade 8 for high school courses relies upon other factors in addition to the tests like report cards, teacher recommendations and –in the case of Honors English, ELA – essays. In Grades 3 – 8, if a student performs poorly on a test they may receive extra supports or services. This is not a punitive measure – it is to help the student do their very best.
I believe the New York State tests are high-stakes because the tests affect the rating of the teachers and that has an impact on the students. Our students look up to their teachers and want to do what the teachers say. Teachers are validly concerned about being rated using a system based on standardized test scores because it is not a reliable way to show what students have learned nor what teachers have taught. You can read here for more details. The bad rating system places stress on teachers and I don’t see how we can expect no indication of the stress teachers are feeling to come across to the children. The students will know that the tests are important to the teacher even if the teacher doesn’t say so. Even if a teacher is truly not concerned about their rating, the teacher will tell the students to ‘Do your best.’ Students are NOT going to want to let their teachers down and have the potential to feel very high stress regarding how well they do on the ‘high stakes’ tests. And let’s admit – what kid is really going to believe ‘Just do your best, the test doesn’t really matter’. If it doesn’t matter, why do they have to take the test?!?
Why Take the Test?
-Testing provides the KCSD with important data that allows us to plan curriculum and identify our strengths and weaknesses. As we seek to be an organization of continuous improvement, we need tools to help measure our progress. The information gleaned from these tests is one piece of the puzzle. Testing data helps us to target specific improvements and aids us in learning how we can better serve our students.
KCSD needs to find better ways of collecting data to plan curriculum and identify our strengths and weaknesses. This article gives some teacher/administrator feedback from New York City on how poorly designed the New York State tests were this year. I bet our teachers could give a bunch of suggestions of ways to gather that data – things like portfolios, classroom observation, methods that actually give a good representation of the whole story regarding what our students are learning.
-For students in our younger grades, these tests provide a “stepping stone” to tests of increasing length and intensity as they move up in their educational careers. Beginning in the third grade, student scores on tests are factored into a number of important decisions, including the selection of students for enrichment opportunities. While test scores are only one factor in the selection process, achievement on exams helps students to better their chances of being offered accelerated learning opportunities.
I have already shared my thoughts on the tests as ‘stepping stones’ to longer tests. Children do NOT need to be stepping up to this many hours of testing! I do find it interesting that this reason for taking the tests stresses how the tests are factored into a number of important decisions for students – isn’t that what ‘high stakes’ tests are?
-Low participation levels can have an adverse impact on school communities. Schools with a testing participation rate lower than 95% will be labeled by New York State as being required to undergo an improvement process. Those schools must form inquiry teams comprised of teachers and administrators. Participating in the test – no matter how a student scores – enables a school to show compliance. This keeps teachers in the classroom, doing what they do best – teaching. Being out of compliance adds another layer of mandated work for our KCSD teachers and administrators. In addition, Title I funding formulas utilize the performance of schools and districts on these tests to determine how much state aid a District will get and how much control (autonomy) the district will have in determining how it should be utilized.
This concern over Title 1 funding is causing parents to be pitted against administration and with the way this district statement is written, administration is essentially pitting parents against parents. If parents choose to exercise their right to refuse the test for their children, other parents can blame them for money lost by the district. Money is not going to be lost by the district. Please go read this explanation and note that Kingston is already a focus district and has title 1 schools so you will want to follow it through to the end. Since we are already a focus district, my guess is that we already have a bunch of paperwork that isn’t helping a whole lot so how about another solution? Let’s come together as a district and stand with others throughout the state against the inappropriate use of testing! If all of the districts in the state have lower than 95% participation rate, the state isn’t going to be able to give every district unnecessary oversight. If the additional oversight by the state from falling below 95% is going to be helpful to the district, then we should welcome it.
-Testing helps prepare students for the future. When students opt out of tests in elementary and middle school, they miss an opportunity to gain a comfort level and familiarity with standardized testing. Learning to become good test takers requires practice. When tests become more important – such as the Regents exams for graduation or SAT test for college entrance – experience can help students to feel confident and do their absolute best.
Becoming a good test taker doesn’t necessarily require practice. Some are just naturally good at it. Some aren’t good no matter how hard they try. Some do get better with practice but lots of standardized testing isn’t the future I want for our students. And what are we going to do when the federal legislation HR-4172 passes (I am working to help get this legislation passed!) which will amend the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 to change the number of federally mandated standardized tests that states are required to administer? HR-4172 would eliminate the need for annual testing and replace it with grade-span testing (or testing once in elementary school and once in middle school) like we had before No Child Left Behind. Is this standardized test practice really so important that we will force our students to take practice standardized tests each year, even if the federal government does not require it, so they will have adequate experience to feel confident to take the Regents or the SAT? I sure hope not!
There has been much discussion about the need for reform in education, and the KCSD wholeheartedly agrees that we need to do better for our students. We will be strengthened by acting together – not separately – to change education. Test refusal is a one-time action that could impact a school community for years to come by creating an inappropriate and inaccurate label of that school’s student population.
What are we going to be ‘acting together’ to do and how? Involved parents have asked for partnership with and direction from the school district regarding how to advocate with the state department of education and state legislators but have been told that ‘our lawyers tell us we can’t say anything about that’ or words to that effect. I understand that the school administration and Board of Education have to follow the state and federal laws/regulations but there seems to be little acknowledgement of the many concerns that parents and teachers have regarding the state tests. The Board of Education passed Resolution BOE67 High Stakes Testing on March 20, 2013 (p. 21-22 of minutes) but there has been very little discussion of the topic since that time. Other districts are supporting parents to help bring about change. Unfortunately I am not feeling a partnership here but more ‘let me tell you what to do’. This parent has not embarked upon the course of action of refusing the tests lightly. Test refusal is NOT a one-time action but rather an action targeted at the problem – the standardized tests! While I wish to be acting together with KCSD to change education, I can not, in good conscience as a parent, encourage my child to take the state tests. I will continue to act in the best interest of my child and the children of this community by REFUSING the tests.
Thank you for taking the time to review this information. We are committed to your child’s education, and to making the KCSD the best that it can be
Thank you for taking the time to review my thoughts and information. I am committed to my child’s education as well as the education of all of the children of Kingston and to making the KCSD the best that it can be as well.
*Most students will not actually be taking tests for 9 hours – only those who have double-time accommodations in their IEPs. However at Bailey for the ELA test, students spent approximately 3 hours each day in the testing rooms even though they were only given 70 minutes for grades 3 and 4 and 90 minutes for grades 5 – 8 (plus 10 minutes of preparation/test instruction time for all grades) to take the tests. For the math state test students without IEP modifications will have 60-90 minutes each day, depending on their grade, to complete the test in addition to the 10 minutes of preparation. My assumption is that the students will remain in the test room for the maximum possible test time as they did for the ELA tests. Details regarding the test formats, times and accommodations can be found in the Teacher’s Directions files at the Office of State Assessment.
KCSD Statement on Testing