NPE Calls for National Opt Out

The Network for Public Education has called for a national opt out as per their website:

“After careful thought and deliberation, the Network for Public Education is calling for a national Opt Out because of the harmful effects of annual high-stakes testing on children and schools.  We enthusiastically support those parents who refuse to have their children take the 2016 state exams.”

Listen to Diane Ravitch and then get your letter at

NPE Calls for National Opt Out

The rest of the story

HeaderAs part of the “tool kit” put together by Commissioner Elia and the NYSED, schools have started to distribute this flyer in an effort to coerce parents into participating in the 2016 Grade 3-8 Math and ELA tests.  Much of the information provided is true: but plenty of information has been conveniently omitted from this flyer as the Commissioner continues to try to deceive the public into thinking that these “changes” will benefit children.  Parents are not appeased because the bottom line is as such: testing still dominates their child’s educational experience.

Let’s take a closer look at what NYSED “forgot” to mention and it will be easy to see why parents will continue to opt out of testing this spring.


In reality, tests are still excessively long. 8-year-old children will be tested for over an hour for 3 consecutive days for ELA and repeat that schedule the following week for math. Students with IEP/504 extended time accommodations could be working twice as long. Eliminating a few questions is certainly NOT the change that parents are looking for.  


Asking a child to take more time to finish an exam is not a solution to the test and punish agenda. In fact, the decision to allow the testing experience to be “untimed” only exacerbates the stressful situation that children are put in when faced with a developmentally inappropriate exam with high stakes consequences attached.   Not only is it wildly inappropriate for children to spend this amount of time on testing, this move by NYSED creates a logistical nightmare for schools who will now be forced to reorganize already limited resources to oversee testing. NYSED has even provided guidance regarding procedures for allowing students a lunch break during testing. So in the end, more staff will be used to accommodate the untimed testing and police test takers during their lunch break (so they can’t discuss the test) while the rest of the student population is underserved and instructional time is lost. This is most certainly NOT a positive change.


This is not a change at all. Teachers have always been “involved” in the test-making process in New York State and more about that process can be read here. What’s important to note is that both in the past and at the present time teachers are not creating the assessments-a for profit corporation is creating the tests. According to the NYSED document pictured above, in October 2015, teachers were called to Albany to “… evaluate and select questions for the 2016 tests.” Moving forward a “greater number” of teachers will be “involved” in the “review” of tests. This does NOT mean that teachers developed or created the 2016 tests, it means that teachers were asked to select from questions provided by a corporation. It is very clear that questions written by NYS teachers will not appear on a test until 2018!


The NYSED did not renew its contract with Pearson and did hire Questar, Inc to develop the assessments BUT the Pearson contract with the state remains until June 2016 and Questar’s does not begin until July 2016. Testing materials put out this year will have the Questar name/logo visible but the items within the test were developed by Pearson, in large part because Questar has not yet developed or field tested a bank of question to use on NYS grade 3-8 exams.
While we’re on the topic, why not look at a few other reasons that the Commissioner or school official might use to try to coerce parents into participating in tests.

1.  Teachers are no longer evaluated using state tests.  False.  

The state tests will not be used to develop a performance rating under the current Annual Professional performance Review but will be used to provide an advisory score. The score will not be used for hiring/firing purposes during the moratorium, but it is certainly possible that when the moratorium is over the advisory scores could be used for hiring/firing.  No one at NYSED will provide parents, teachers, or administrators with clarification in regards to the possibility of a “look-back”.

In addition, since NYS test scores won’t be used for APPR/teacher evaluation purposes, OTHER tests must be used in their place and will count for 50% of a teacher’s evaluation.  For some students this means additional testing.  For all students this means that the high stakes have simply been moved from one test to another.  (read more about about different types of tests used for teacher evaluation purposes here.)

Furthermore, it is now widely accepted that it is bad practice to use student test scores to evaluate teachers and parents know this.  Shifting a bad idea from one test to another is NOT  the change parents are demanding.  Refusing to participate in state and/or local tests used to evaluate teachers has proven to be the most effective way to advocate for our kids and parents will continue to do so until their concerns are truly addressed.

2.  Kids take tests weekly.  Misses the point
It’s very true that kids take tests on a regular basis but this is certainly not a valid reason why kids should take part in a state exam.  If our kids are taking tests weekly, then the teachers and parents have the information necessary to inform instruction and make sure the child’s needs are being met.

In many districts, children are over-tested in the classroom because the statewide test and punish agenda has created a data driven culture that ignores the whole child and focuses solely on numbers and scores.  Many parents refuse to participate in NYS grade 3-8 exams because they feel that their action sends a message that they are not in support of the over emphasis on testing-local or state.

3.  NYS Tests are one of many measures used to test the rigorous CC Learning Standards. Misses the point.
Parents have and will continue to reject the notion that a standardized test is the only way in which learning can be measured.  Alongside teachers and principals who feel the same way, parents are demanding that the focus return to educating the whole child as opposed to preparing children to take a test.  The sentiment that a test is only one way to measure learning rings hollow with parents who see-every day-that their child’s needs are ignored while the test is placed at the forefront.

4.  Refusing tests could harm our school. False.
Participating in tests shows that we as parents, students, or teachers, are complicit with sorting and ranking schools which is why opting in to such a system is certainly not the answer.  It is only by rejecting the flawed system that we can truly protect our schools.  Want to be sure you don’t risk harming your school? Refuse to participate.  It is only when you opt in to the system that you take a risk.  Opt OUT and you aren’t a part of the broken model.

And just in case anyone wants to try this old trick, please know that no school has ever lost funding due to low participation rates.  New York State Allies for Public Education has a great resource for explaining participation rates and federal Title I funding but you don’t really need to know the fine print to be reassured that your refusal won’t cause harm.  You, as a parent, have the right to oversee your child’s education.  You, as a parent, have the right to refuse to participate in testing.  If the state or federal government, or the Governor of NYS wants to deny your school funding because you expressed your right as a parent, call their bluff.  It is NOT you who will be harming the school, it is the people in positions of power that can choose to harm your school.

5.  Concerns expressed by parents last spring have been addressed.  False.
Parents’ concerns have certainly NOT been addressed.  Ask a parent and they will tell you that last year and this year feel quite the same.  Their child has advanced a grade, but their child is still given pre-tests and post-tests, modules are still in place, curriculum is still paced based on the NYS testing schedule, and there has yet to be a return to child-centered instruction alongside rich, robust programming for all students.

And parents have not forgotten: the Education Transformation Act of 2015 is still on record.  It remains the law.  A moratorium does not equate to change.  A moratorium means a pause, and this pause means that the damage will resume-unless, of course, parents continue to reject the entire premise by opting out of the tests.


The rest of the story

Board of Regents

12654479_10207892376322881_5408686740790294158_nJessica McNair, co-founder of Opt Out CNY, recently applied to serve on the NYS Board of Regents as representative of the 5th Judicial District.  She interviewed with members of the NYS Assembly on Wednesday February 3rd, 2016.  You can watch her interview here (at 2 hours 44 minutes).  Below is a message sent to the legislators in attendance at the interview, as well as the text of her opening remarks.

Dear Assemblymember,

Thank you for the opportunity to interview for a seat on the Board of Regents representing the 5th Judicial District.  I appreciate the seriousness with which you take the task of appointing a new member to the Board.  Never before has it been more important to nominate an individual who will speak truthfully and act thoughtfully in representing the varied needs of the students, teachers, and schools of our region and state.  Decisions made by the next Regent must be based on proven strategies grounded in research and always in the best interest of children.

As I shared last week, I feel that I would bring balance to the Board as I am a parent of public school students, an educator currently serving in a public school, and a parent activist that has the support of the public and a proven track record of speaking honestly and advocating for children.

In addition to selecting a Regent not beholden to anyone other than the children of New York, I urge you to help our state move forward by repealing the Education Transformation Act of 2015, as doing so is the necessary first step towards making progress and restoring the public’s trust.  This action, in conjunction with the appointment of two new Regents, can be the beginning of a new and better era in education for our students by returning control of education policy to the Board of Regents.
I’ve included the text of my opening statement below and would be glad to answer any additional questions that you did not have the opportunity to ask during my interview. It is with hope and enthusiasm I thank you for your attention to education in New York State.
Jessica McNair

Opening Statement by Jessica McNair, Candidate, Board of Regents JD5

Good afternoon.  My name is Jessica McNair and I’d like to thank you for the opportunity to interview. I’m a resident of New Hartford NY, mother to two school aged children who attend public schools, a public school educator and a product of NYS public schools.  As you’ll know from my resume I am a proud graduate of the SUNY at Geneseo and the University at Albany and I hold permanent teaching certificates in elementary and special education.  I have over 7 years teaching experience in the New Hartford Central School District and I am an active member of my local teachers association, NYSUT Local 08-100.  One of my greatest honors is serving on the steering committee of the NYSAPE and it is my involvement with parent-led grassroots organizations of our region and state that led me here today.

As I’ve traveled across the 5th Judicial District meeting with parents and sharing information about the Regents reform agenda, I have been inspired by the stories I’ve heard of outstanding educators who are making a positive difference in the lives of our local students each day and I have learned that parents really like their children’s teachers and value their neighborhood schools.  What parents do not like, however, are the consequences of an agenda in which they had no say, especially since they continue to see their children suffering as daily instruction in science, art, history and recess continue to disappear.  Parents know that all this is a result of our schools bowing to the pressure of a state led, test and punish agenda that continues to erroneously tout assessments as an answer to issues in our schools.  It’s not surprising, then, that parents are increasingly frustrated that legislators continue to chip away at local control of our schools, set up our most impoverished schools for failure and lay out the welcome mat  for state takeover of our schools.  I have lobbied the Senate and Assembly, rallied with parents and teachers, attended forums and listening sessions, and even provided expert testimony as a technical advisor to Governor Cuomo’s Common Core Task Force all to see our children continue to pay the price for failure of the adults.  

In fact, when the CC Task Force issued its report, I knew that I could not remain silent.  The report has been dubbed by many as the Task Farce-and for good reason.  The recommendations in the report are broad sweeping statements with little to no practical solutions. The report fails to identify the root cause of the issues at hand, and fails to identify alternatives or solutions.  I am embarrassed that my name is associated with the report, a report that is mocking and disrespectful to the students, teachers, and parents of NYS.  I am not, however, embarrassed that I continue to seek out solutions.  Every child in NYS deserves a school that provides a rich curriculum, excellent teachers, has an abundance of resources and excellent facilities. There are two obstacles that stand in our way.

The first is the Education Transformation Act of 2015.  It is not enough to toss this vile law over the the Board of Regents and expect that the atrocities within can be resolved with regulations.  In fact, it is a law-and as soon as one wants to challenge the regulations in court, the law will prevail.  I am not fooled-without a repeal of the Education Transformation Act, the rest of our efforts are in vain.

The second obstacle is an overwhelming lack of trust.  Parents, educators, students and the general public have lost trust that their well-being and success matters to anyone in this room.  We have lost trust in a Governor who claims to support teachers while also aiming to end the monopoly of public education.  We have have no reason to even begin to trust a Commissioner who already failed one state, arrived here committed to a set of unproven standards and a regimen of testing and is willing to put charter schools ahead of publics, all before she even had a chance to get to know the people she serves.  We have lost trust in our Education Department, decimated and silenced at the hand of an autocratic Chancellor and her hand-selected, self-funded reform fellows.  We have lost trust in the elected officials who voted with a heavy heart to help destroy our public schools.

Without the trust of the public, and a repeal of the Education Transformation Act, it does not matter what test vendor you select, how long it is, or how many NYS teachers rubber stamped it.  Without the trust of the public, moving forward towards solutions will be next to impossible.  I am here today because I feel that I am the right candidate to help the Board of Regents restore that trust.  My experience as a parent organizer, my time in the classroom, and my role as a mother provides the perspective that is so desperately needed in Albany.  

Board of Regents