Wednesday, February 5, 2014

It Is Civic Engagement Time!

Yesterday was a rare bright spot for education in the state of New York.  The State Senate and Assembly have both officially called for a two year moratorium on using Common Core aligned exams to make "high stakes decisions".  These high stakes decisions include promotion and middle/high school acceptance for students, ratings/job security/tenure decisions for teachers, and decisions regarding closures/expansion/co locations for schools (although in NYC at least that last part may be on hold for a while.)  If you have not been paying attention, this potentially major move from the state legislator, comes after dozens of hearings around the state where outraged parents and teachers expressed their concern about this issue.  To provide further context, students in grades 3-8 were forced to take these exams across the state last spring (which brought many of them to tears and made others physically sick) and only about 30% of them passed.  This was mainly due to the fact that the test were rushed and neither teachers or students had time to prepare.  In fact Common Core Curriculum was not even made available to teachers until this summer (months after the tests had been given), and even now the curriculum is not complete. There is currently no curriculum for 10th-12th grade ELA or Math, despite the fact that 10th graders are scheduled to take the Common Core Geometry Regents next year, and the Common Core ELA Regents the following year.

Any logical person can see that administering Common Core exams before Common Core curriculum has been released is putting the cart before the horse, but many don't understand just how damaging these tests are. 70% of children around the state were told by the State Education Department that they were failures. These kids were likely prepped to death, and then had to spend days on exams that they had no chance of passing or even completing.  Before the exams were even administered the SED knew that these kids would fail, so why give these exams at all?  My best guess is that they thought these exams would further, not set back their agenda.  They believed that when kids all across the state, even in high preforming suburbs, failed these tests their parents would call for teachers to be fired and schools to be closed or privatized.  The SED thought parents would realize they were wrong all along and that their children need these exams/standards/reforms if they want to succeed in life.  Well unfortunately for John King and Merryl Tisch parents are lot smarter than they thought and knew these exams were a sham.

Up until this point King and Tisch have stuck by these reforms, and Cuomo has remained silent and procrastinated (which is his way of giving them his full support while keeping his approval rating up).  The legislator is giving The Board of Regents a little more time to make a decision before going ahead with their moratorium, but it is clear to all educators that The Board of Regents have no intention of making any changes.  That was made clear by the abysmal ELA Regents Exam complete with harder cut scores that was given last month.  That test (which put tremendous strain on my students, and led to more student anxiety than I have seen in years) was clearly the Board of Regents going full speed ahead with their agenda. At least a dozen of my students (who I know for sure should have score in the 80's or 90's) ended up with scores of 71-74.  Since 75 is the score required to be deemed college ready, I am sure that SED will eventually use this to point out a need for high standards.  Other students failed the exam outright and are missing out on 5 months of reading British Literature and college level writing assignments to sit in a Regents Prep course. Clearly they are making no real attempts at change and will do whatever it takes to keep up this illusion that the students in our state are failing and that only their reforms will save us.  To John King and Merryl Tisch our students are just acceptable collateral damage in furthering their awful agenda.  An agenda that they will not let up on until every classroom is a test prep factory complete with all the expensive Person textbooks and blending learning programs in the world and run by a cheap non unionized teacher.

If there was ever a time to get involved and push back it is now.  The longer the legislator takes to act, the more likely we see these test in the spring, and the more likely we see teachers fired and students left back over them.  The best thing you can do is call or write to your state senator and assembly person asking them to support the moratorium.  While a two year moratorium does not go far enough in my opinion, it is a great start towards pushing back the tide of reform, and taking back the public schools for the students and teachers of New York State.  Below this post is a copy of the letter I sent to my State Senator Marty Golden, as well as my Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis.  (I will also be calling both of their offices).

Dear Senator Golden,

I am writing to you today as a very concerned constituent.  I am asking that you join Senators Skelos, Klein, and Flanagan in supporting the two year moratorium on high stakes tied to Common Core testing.  As a proud New York City public school teacher, I have seen damage done by these tests first hand.  Everyday I see anxiety on my students faces caused by their Regents exams, and the look that my 9th graders give when I mention the Common Core exams they took last year (and will be taking in Algebra this year) is heartbreaking.  These tests are developmentally inappropriate and cause unnecessary anxiety among parents, teachers, and especially students.  Any educator with any experience knows that you should never give an exam that 70% of students are unprepared for.  The State Education Department has not even finished rolling out Common Core curriculum, and yet teachers will be fired over these exams, and students left back. Since it is clear that neither State Education Commissioner John King, or Regents Chair Tisch plan to do anything about this issue, it is up to the legislator to enact a law immediately before any more damage is done. Please support the moratorium that your colleagues proposed as it is an extremely important issue to myself and many of your other constituents.

Thank you in advance for your support,

-A Concerned Educator