It’s the middle of August and hard to ignore the impending flip of the calendar to September. Though most stores are peddling pumpkin flavored everything and some already have winter coats on display, a few of us are still doing our back to school shopping and holding on to flip-flops and beach towels for as long as we can. While I urge you to squeeze in every last ounce of summer fun with your kids, there is one item on the back to school list that is of utmost importance and can easily be taken care of now: your 2016 refusal letter.
The passage of the Education Labor and Family Assistance Bill of 2015 (S.2006-B / A.3006-B) on April 1, 2015 changed the landscape of test refusal by increasing the stakes attached to tests and spreading the test and punish reform agenda more blatantly throughout the grade levels. With every teacher now facing 50% of her/his evaluation based on test scores and despite the continued dedication and best intentions of teachers statewide, parents can only anticipate that the test and punish agenda will continue to negatively affect their children at every level and in every classroom unless, of course, parents say, “No!”
More often than I can count, I’ve been asked it parents can really affect change by refusing tests. Following the historic opt out movement this past spring, it’s easier than ever to respond to that question with a hearty, “Yes!” When 2015 test scores were released last week the focus quickly shifted from the incremental gains made by students to the astounding 20% of the population that refused to participate. The Mohawk Valley can boast an impressive 38% opt out rate with Central New York right behind at 33%. It’s safe to say that parents have changed the conversation, with some experts going so far as to say that opt outs have rendered scores unreliable and one local BOCES Superintendent called our movement successful.
With the ball clearly in the parents’ court, we must now make certain that opt outs grow again in 2016, and we need to get started now. Though much of the refusal process remains the same is quite straightforward, there are a few other elements to consider when refusing tests this year. Most notably, exams are now worth 50% of a teachers evaluation in all grades and subjects (with consequences tied to a ‘poor’ evaluation more alarming than ever) and backup exams must now be in place should opt outs prevent teachers from receiving a score related to the primary assessment (yep- that means your child could be looking at double the test prep this year).
Therefore, Opt Out CNY has updated and revised the 2016 refusal letter to reflect changes made last spring and provide information to parents so that they can make an informed decision. Most notably, the 2016 refusal letter now includes a checklist with the option of refusing tests in subjects and areas in addition to/outside of the NYS grade 3-8 math and ELA exams.*
Many parents will choose to refuse exams because they feel that linking student test scores to teacher evaluation distorts and corrupts the teaching and learning process. Other parents will refuse because the tests aren’t used to provide meaningful feedback to their child or the teacher but are instead administered to fulfill the requirement of the law. At the same time, some parents will allow their children to participate in tests outside of the grade 3-8 math & ELA if they feel that the tests are developmentally appropriate and useful to their child and/or the teacher. There is, of course, also a third option: that parents and schools will work together and find compromise so that children can participate in meaningful assessments without their data being shared beyond the school level/for APPR purposes.
The key here is for parents to educate themselves, work with school officials, and make an informed decision knowing that (excluding the NYS grade 3-8 math and ELA tests and 4 & 8 science tests) assessments given in each grade, subject, school and district will be unique. In other words, there is no one right way to refuse. As such, Opt Out CNY has developed a guideline that we hope will help parents in the decision-making process. Of course, it is up to the individual family to determine what is best for each child.
In the end, it is our hope that the opt out movement in Central New York continues to help pave the way for a return to the child centered, locally controlled classroom environment parents know is best for their children. We welcome you to join in the conversation at our Facebook page where you can also network with other parents in your community and get timely answers to any questions you may have-an invaluable tool considering refusals will look different in every district.
Opt Out CNY is encouraged by the collective actions of parents statewide and hopeful that parents continue to express their concerns about the reform agenda by refusing to participate in tests. Download and customize your 2016 Test Refusal Letter and then be sure to go enjoy the remainder of summer before the displays of crayons and glue sticks are replaced with red and green.
*remember: never refuse Regents exams required for graduation