March 27, 2018 4PM

Public School Students (& a Few Parents) Call Out NYCDOE for Spreading Lies to Suppress Test Refusal; Declare NYS Grade 3-8 Tests Harm Children, Exacerbate Inequities in Schools

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At the March 23rd meeting of the City Council Education Committee, Council Member Brad Lander described as “disturbing” a change in the NYCDOE testing FAQ, "Whereas last year's [FAQ] let parents know about their right to opt out, the new guide does not include any language about parents’ rights to opt out; it is significantly different.”

Disturbing, but just the latest disregard for parent rights when it comes to test refusal rights.

“Once again, I call upon the NYC Department of Education to inform all parents of their right to opt their children out of high-stakes standardized tests,” said NYC Council Member Daniel Dromm. “These exams, originally intended to assess academic development, are still being used inappropriately by state and federal education departments. Standardized tests were never meant to be used the way in which they are used today. The Department has still not done an adequate job of informing parents of their right to opt out despite the City Council unanimously passing a resolution in 2015 calling on school officials to do just that.”

CM Dromm’s characterization of the tests’ use as inappropriate is correct. Too blunt an instrument to be used diagnostically (60-70% of all students fail, rising to 90+% for special education students, and 95% for English Language Learners) and arriving far too late in the year to be useful for planning instruction, the tests are good primarily for one thing: providing data that Betsy Devos and others can use as cover to legitimize the closing of schools, the purchase of costly and unproven technologies and materials that enrich for-profit testing and publishing companies, and the replacement of public school communities with corporate or privately-controlled education.

“The Department of Education has a responsibility to ensure that parents or guardians are fully informed about the options available regarding their children’s education, including their child’s right to opt out of standardized testing,” said NYC Council Member and Education Committee Chair Mark Treyger. High stakes tests do not holistically measure student and school achievement. The DOE must ensure that our city’s families are informed of their right to opt out, and should work to advance more inclusive and accurate methods of assessing academic progress and school success.”

Because test scores tend to correlate with income, it is no surprise that the schools being closed or the schools doubling down on test prep in a frantic effort to boost scores (because they fear being closed), are schools that serve large numbers of low-income students. The use of the tests, then is not only inappropriate, but discriminatory.  “When the tests are essentially weapons aimed at our schools and our children by federal mandate, I expect our state and city departments of education to do everything they can to stand with us against this onslaught,” said Sharna Tucker, a Brooklyn parent currently studying to be a teacher. “I understand that districts are obligated to administer the tests, but they don’t have to, and shouldn’t be trying to, ‘sell’ us on their supposed virtues with backpacked flyers and deceptive emails. And they definitely should not be withholding or distorting information about our right to refuse the tests, when test refusal is the most effective strategy to shift our schools’ myopic focus away from improving test scores and back to the public good of preparing young people to be curious, engaged citizens,” added Rosemarie Maldonado-Wright.

Johanna Garcia, Washington Heights mother and President of Community Education Council 6, added, “Our local school officials are cowering down to scare tactics from the White House and the state house. Threats of withholding money or other punitive measures are unsubstantiated and even if they were legitimate, we should be acting the same way as when they threaten to pull funding for not cooperating with ICE agents. Otherwise, we lose any remaining sense of autonomy and make it open season on our children's public education and parents' civil liberties.”

The children are listening. “Emma Gonzalez said, ‘Adults like us when we have strong test scores, but they hate us when we have strong opinions,’” said Matilda Seki, a Brooklyn 6th grader. Her twin Eliza, added, “As a student who has been opting out and fighting the state tests for years, I know that it is important for youths to use their voice, and in doing that, make a difference.” Fifth grader Zoe Alperin noted that not everyone knew they could refuse, “It is unfair that I know I have a right to opt out, but kids in other schools don't have the same info.”

We call on the DOE and the Mayor to stop and desist from sharing misinformation about the "ramifications" of opting out. Stop pressuring principals to pressure their parent bodies. Immediately issue a memo to principals and ed staff clarifying--not spinning-- information about test participation, including the distinction for “institutional exclusion” (as opposed to parent-initiated refusal) written into NYS’s ESSA plan.  As is the case in some of our neighboring suburban districts, parent communications should acknowledge a parent’s right to refuse the tests and even provide a simple city-issued form where parents can indicate whether they will have their children participate in or refuse the tests. Work with parents and educators to achieve policies that support public education rather penalize it. Strive to  make classrooms places that empower all our children by encouraging exploration and the asking of questions rather than constricting their paths to the selection of someone else’s “right” answer.

Parents’ voices should be heard and honored when it comes to their children's education.

The voices of teachers and administrators should be honored for advocating authentic student learning; they should  not be pressed into service for top-down policy makers who don’t know or work with our children. Students' voices should be heard and honored when it comes to participating in a rich and engaging learning environment that values who they are and all their talents. 

NYC Opt Out is a loose coalition of NYC parents who are concerned about the impact of high-stakes testing on New York City's schools, children, and teachers. NYC Opt Out represents families in schools all over the city and is 100% volunteer-driven, with no corporate, foundation, or union sponsors. Parent volunteers have paid for flyers and website costs from their own pockets.