Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Opt Out Week on the Range: Day Two (New York)

Posted By on Tue, Feb 3, 2015 at 9:00 AM

Jia Lee - Senate Hearings Reauthorization of NCLB Jan 2015 from nLightn Media on Vimeo.

New York is one of the hotbeds of the national Opt Out movement. Last April, an estimated 33,000 students opted out of the state's annual standardized tests. What was done to all those children, parents and schools as a result of this protest against standardized testing? Apparently, very little.
According to the state survey, most schools do not stand in the way of opt outs. Still, at 2 percent of schools, parents or students were pressured not to opt out. Another 20 percent did not allow students who opted out to participate in an alternative activity, such as reading. Children had to sit quietly and do nothing.

Some schools where a majority of students refused the tests have not been penalized.
Some New York teachers are risking their jobs by refusing to administer the test, like Beth Dimino, an eighth-grade teacher in Long Island.
“I find myself at a point in the progress of education reform in which clear acts of conscience will be necessary to preserve the integrity of public education,” [Dimino] writes. . . . "The next logical step has to be the movement of conscientious objectors,” she tells the Press. “I believe, and I said this to [New York State Education Commissioner John] King and [state Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl] Tisch and [state] Senator [John] Flanagan at the Three Village Rally [in November 2013], that this is child abuse. I believe that it is child abuse. I believe that giving these tests to my students makes me culpable in the abuse of children and I can no longer do that.”
Dimino has a powerful ally: her district superintendent, Dr. Joe Rella.
“I have known Beth for over 20 years,” he says. “This was not something she has done lightly. There was a lot of soul searching that went on and she said to me, as a matter of conscience, she cannot participate. She cannot proctor this test. And I support that.”

Dimino also has teachers on her side, specifically a group calling itself Teachers of Conscience. The group wrote a letter to New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, recently appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio. A few excerpts:

We are teachers of public education in the City of New York. We are writing to distance ourselves from a set of policies that have come to be known as market-based education reform.


As an act of conscience, we are declining the role of test administrators for the 2014 New York State Common Core Tests. We are acting in solidarity with countless public school teachers who have paved their own paths of resistance and spoken truthfully about the decay of their profession under market-based reforms. These acts of conscience have been necessary because we are accountable to the children we teach and our pedagogy, both of which are dishonored daily by current policies.
One of the founders of the group, Jia Lee, recently gave testimony at the Senate hearings on No Child Left Behind. Here's what she said near the end of her statement.
Last year, over 50% of the parents at our school refused to allow their children to take the NYS Common Core aligned ELA and Math tests and we were not alone. The Latin root of assessment is to “sit alongside.” Until we have teachers and policymakers “sitting alongside” and getting to know our students and our classrooms in deep and meaningful ways, we cannot fully understand the state of public education. No corporate made multiple- choice test will give you that data. Last year, I decided that I am obligated and accountable to my students and families, and that is why, as a conscientious objector, I will not administer tests that reduce my students to a single metric and will continue to take this position until the role of standardized assessments are put in their proper place.
The video at the top of this post gives some background and includes Jia Lee's testimony.

The Opt Out movement has received support from a sizable number of New York parents and teachers as well as some administrators. It will make for interesting watching this standardized testing season, to see if the number of New York students—and teachers—opting out increases and how school, district and state level administrators handle the situation.

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