Standardized tests draw criticism and anxiety
By Pamela Doan
Standardized tests have long been a point of contention. The stress it places on children, whether or not it’s an effective gauge of learning, and the time devoted by teachers to prepare students for tests are just some of the issues debated. The English Language Arts state tests that were administered to grades three through eight recently brought a new round of protests from parents across the state. Prominent roadside signs were visible throughout the region encouraging parents to opt out of tests on behalf of their children.
At the Garrison Union Free School District, Interim Superintendent Brian Monahan reported that five students sat out the tests, about 2 percent of the student body. “This is the first time that I remember this happening throughout the region,” Monahan said. “Certainly it’s taking on more life than at other times.”
Kim Schauffler, the parent of a second grade student and a seventh grade student at Garrison, was one of the parents who kept her child out. “It does nothing, it means nothing, it’s ineffective,” Schauffler said. “Teachers don’t even see the mistakes a child makes and can’t help them with their weaknesses. They lose days and days and days of learning in preparation for these tests.”
Schauffler’s position about testing came about as she researched the Common Core. “I’m against the Common Core. I’m all for good standards and a higher bar, but the Common Core is colorless and all about worksheets. My second grader has been in tears and torment over the homework, some of it I can’t even understand.”
Schauffler has been actively involved in protests against the Common Core, participating in rallies in Albany and Long Island, and she’s involved in online forums with parents across the country. “It’s insanity that the tests are used as a measure to evaluate teachers. They do so much more throughout the year. Common Core is not fixing the problem.”
Across the state, student test scores have fallen since the tests were aligned with Common Core standards and administered one year ago. In acknowledgement of the many issues that have been raised about the tests, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced this month that test scores would not be included in student transcripts until 2018.
At Haldane, Interim Superintendent John Chambers said that there were 17 students whose parents refused to let them be tested. “We’re obligated by the state to test at least 95 percent of the students and that number didn’t interfere with our ability to administer the test. This isn’t the first time this has happened. My impression is that when everybody gets done counting in all the districts, the number will be higher this year than last. I think there are numbers that are similar in neighboring districts.” About whether the Common Core was the issue at stake, Chambers went on to say, “I don’t think the Common Core should be confused with the tests. The letters we’ve received don’t mention it. Parents have said that they don’t feel the tests are meaningful and that they take away from learning.”
Haldane parent Caryn Cannova echoed those sentiments. “I was going to let my son, a third grade student, take the tests. I didn’t want him to be singled out. Then he got sick, had such a high fever we had to go to the emergency room and on the way to the hospital he was so stressed out about the test. He’d been talking about it for weeks and weeks. I knew then that this had gone too far and when he went back to school, I had him sit out the make-up test.”
Cannova expressed concerns about the difficulty and the maturity level of the material under the Common Core curriculum. She described an exercise on Syria that dealt with the gassing of civilians by the government and conflict with President Obama that she felt were issues that should be addressed by older students, not 8-year-olds. “He used to love school, now he hates it. There’s at least an hour and a half of homework every night and parents have to become teachers to help kids with it. It’s too stressful.”
Student data sharing will move forward
In related Common Core news, the sharing of student data with third-party vendor inBloom by the NYS Education Department (SED) is moving forward. Antonia Valentine, a spokesperson from SED, said, “We are working with the legislature on privacy matters and do not expect the full release of the EngageNY Portal until the start of the next school year.”
Last fall, the Haldane and Garrison boards grappled with how to handle the EngageNY Portal, which was intended to give parents online access to student test scores, grades and other information. Districts that participate in Race to the Top, which Haldane still does, were expected to choose from three possible dashboard controls and report their choice to the SED by a November deadline. Race to the Top is a federal program begun in 2009 that awards grant money to states, which pass it on to school districts based on adherence to certain standards for teacher evaluations and student performance, among other things.
Garrison opted to withdraw from RTTT and return their funding, only about $500, citing concerns about the vulnerability of student data.
The Haldane board refused to make a choice about the dashboard and nothing else was done about it. Haldane Board President Gillian Thorpe said, “Nothing happened when we didn’t choose a dashboard. We had concerns and Mark Villanti advised that we not respond.” It is unclear if the Garrison board will follow-up on any of their concerns. The Garrison board president and vice-president did not respond to two emails about the issue.
Across the state, parents have expressed outrage that their children’s academic history, including disciplinary actions and parent’s identifying information, will be shared with a third-party vendor. One point that is repeatedly made refers to the fact that a medical provider isn’t legally allowed to share this level of confidential information without permission, yet the SED will pass it on without a parent’s or district’s permission.
Recent national hacking incidences have made many people wary of data security on all levels and it touches a nerve that a child’s sensitive information is being shared with multiple parties and tracked throughout their public school career.
Private and non-profit entities, like inBloom, are beholden to whatever contracts the state negotiates and can enforce, but for a parent, that loss of control means that the consequences of any data breaches are out of reach of their school administrators and elected officials.
A fact sheet posted on the SED’s website details the student data that will be shared and the security protocols in place. At this time, inBloom is not to sell or share the information with other third-party vendors. Parents’ concerns remain that their children’s information will be further monetized for commercial purposes in the future.