Teachers Refuse The Test

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download-35Par­ents, in grow­ing num­bers, have been refus­ing the Com­mon Core aligned test for their chil­dren. Over 50% (see cor­rec­tion) of the stu­dents in New York City refused the test last year. Yes­ter­day I wrote about Jia Lee who said she found it uncon­scionable to give the new Com­mon Core aligned tests to her stu­dents. Anoth­er teacher, Jen­nifer Rick­erts of New York laid out, in very clear terms, why she also would be refus­ing to admin­is­ter the new CC tests to her stu­dents.  She found her­self in a “deep moral con­flict” after read­ing the test guide and know­ing what it said it would be ask­ing her 11–12 year old stu­dents to do.

Today I am a bro­ken woman,” she said.

Her full let­ter is in Valerie Strauss’s col­umn in the Wash­ing­ton Post. Below are excerpts.

I have the great­est job on earth. I’m a teacher.  This year, I began my 22nd year at the Ich­a­bod Crane Cen­tral School Dis­trict, where I have taught Grades 2, 5, and 6.  I love my stu­dents and I am very pas­sion­ate about teach­ing.  I also stay involved with edu­ca­tion­al shifts and new strate­gies.  I try to exem­pli­fy this in the lead­er­ship roles I assume as Grade Lev­el Chair, English/Language Arts Liai­son, and Mid­dle School Stu­dent Men­tor­ing Coor­di­na­tor.  I have always thought of myself as some­what “old-school” because I respect the chain of com­mand, respect my elders, and con­sid­er myself patri­ot­ic.  I am a rule fol­low­er…

Over the last few years, I have seen many par­ents cry about their child’s New York State test scores, and I have seen stu­dents cry because they can’t com­plete the tests.  I began to ques­tion the valid­i­ty of the assess­ments as they became more and more daunt­ing for my stu­dents, but I believed that if I con­tin­ued to incor­po­rate the Com­mon Core Learn­ing Stan­dards and pro­vide the high­est qual­i­ty instruc­tion, my stu­dents would be eval­u­at­ed fair­ly.  Dur­ing this peri­od, I kept the faith in our great state of New York and our edu­ca­tion­al lead­ers, hop­ing that there would be a fair res­o­lu­tion for the chil­dren…

I read the “New York State Test­ing Program’s Edu­ca­tor Guide to the 2015 Grade 6 Com­mon Core Eng­lish Lan­guage Arts Test,” and I sobbed.  I am so dis­turbed by the descrip­tions of the test in this guide that I find myself in deep moral con­flict regard­ing the admin­is­tra­tion of the 2015 Com­mon Core Eng­lish Lan­guage Arts Test to my stu­dents.

My stu­dents are 11- and 12-years-old.  They are at the cog­ni­tive lev­el that Jean Piaget, revered cog­ni­tive the­o­rist, char­ac­ter­ized as “con­crete-oper­a­tional,” mean­ing they can think log­i­cal­ly about con­crete events but have dif­fi­cul­ty under­stand­ing abstract or hypo­thet­i­cal sit­u­a­tions.  Yet in the guide, it states that stu­dents will “eval­u­ate intri­cate argu­ments.”

In addi­tion, “stu­dents will need to make hard choic­es between ful­ly cor­rect and plau­si­ble, but incor­rect answers that are designed specif­i­cal­ly to deter­mine whether stu­dents have com­pre­hend­ed the entire pas­sage.”  This is not devel­op­men­tal­ly appro­pri­ate for my stu­dents, and I find it cru­el and harm­ful to sug­gest that it is.  I do not believe in know­ing­ly set­ting my stu­dents up for fail­ure.  I can­not remain silent for one more day with­out speak­ing up for my stu­dents…

The guide also indi­cates that stu­dents will be read­ing dif­fi­cul­ty lev­els, or Lex­iles, as high as 1185, which is the lev­el eleventh-grade stu­dents are required to under­stand.  When chil­dren read, if the dif­fi­cul­ty lev­el sig­nif­i­cant­ly exceeds their instruc­tion­al lev­el, the lack of flu­en­cy caus­es a dra­mat­ic break­down in com­pre­hen­sion.

Clear­ly, this is a set-up for the kids to fail.  As stu­dents learn, they make sense out of new infor­ma­tion through schema.  Schema­ta are cog­ni­tive frame­works to which they can add to, or mod­i­fy, as they learn new infor­ma­tion.  One could com­pare the require­ment for chil­dren to under­stand these pas­sages to expect­ing them to mas­ter alge­bra before estab­lish­ing num­ber sense; there is no foun­da­tion to build knowl­edge upon.

If a stu­dent has no con­text, they are not like­ly to com­pre­hend the text at the deep lev­el required to dis­tin­guish ful­ly cor­rect answers from plau­si­ble, but incor­rect answers.  In addi­tion to these inap­pro­pri­ate, unfa­mil­iar con­cepts and time peri­ods, stu­dents will be expect­ed to sift through authors’ use of “inten­tion­al­ly incor­rect gram­mar and/or spelling” and “pas­sages drawn from works com­mon­ly taught in high­er grades.”  Final­ly, in the guide it states that “Stu­dents will be required to nego­ti­ate plau­si­ble, text-based dis­trac­tors.  A dis­trac­tor is an incor­rect response that may appear plau­si­ble.”

In sum­ma­ry, we are going to ask 11-year-olds to read and com­pre­hend pas­sages that are tak­en from high­er grades, some at 5 years above their lev­el, with con­tro­ver­sial and provoca­tive lan­guage, based on abstract lit­er­a­ture and his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ments that the stu­dents have not learned about yet, and choose an answer from sev­er­al plau­si­ble choic­es?  We are going to have our stu­dents spend nine hours of seat time, allow­ing extra time for our Spe­cial Edu­ca­tion stu­dents, on these inap­pro­pri­ate tests? (Add anoth­er nine hours for math.)

And after all is said and done, we will reduce each child to a num­ber: 4, 3, 2, or 1, based on their per­for­mance, pro­vid­ing the teach­ers and par­ents with lit­tle to no infor­ma­tion about what they can and can­not do?

No.  No, I can­not.

With all due respect to my stu­dents, their par­ents, my admin­is­tra­tion, and Board of Edu­ca­tion, I must go on record as strong­ly object­ing to this test.  I respect­ful­ly request reas­sign­ment on the dates of the 2015 Com­mon Core ELA Assess­ment.

Jen­nifer Rick­ert

A 1–4 will not pro­vide any­one with rich infor­ma­tion about a child’s abil­i­ty of knowl­edge. Even if teach­ers are pro­vid­ed with more infor­ma­tion, arriv­ing at the end of the school year it is unlike­ly it would con­tain any­thing they did not already know about the stu­dent, and com­ing from a test they did not devel­op or even see it would have even less mean­ing.

Our state will spend $4.3 mil­lion on this test. Our state also plans to use SBAC devel­oped inter­im tests for the grades not receiv­ing the big sum­ma­tive test in the spring, start­ing next year.  These are six “short­er” tests giv­en through­out the year, again nei­ther designed nor seen by teach­ers, most like­ly with the same flaws as the sum­ma­tive ones. But hey, how great for McGraw Hill who is design­ing the test items. They will have even more data flow­ing in to them from our stu­dent with which to con­tin­u­al­ly change their prod­uct. They will be using our kids in “non-test­ed” grades to help devel­op test valid­i­ty for their sum­ma­tive spring tests. And we get pay even more for this test­ing priv­i­lege.

At some point we need to step off the test­ing tread­mill. Are there any Jia Lees or Jen­nifer Rick­erts in Mis­souri will­ing to stand up and refuse?

You can watch Ms. Rick­erts deliv­er her tes­ti­mo­ny.

Cor­rec­tion: 50% 0f stu­dents in Jia Lee’s New York City school refused the test. 30,000+ over­all in New York City refused. For a table with more specifics see this link.