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Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Merrick parents testing the limits
‘Opt-out’ movement may cause headaches for districts
By Brian Racow, bracow@liherald.com
Fewer than 95 percent of students at Old Mill Road School in North Merrick took new English Language Arts tests that the state launched last month — a threshold that schools must meet for them to have made “Adequate Yearly Progress,” according to the New York State Department of Education.

First of two parts.

School officials in the Merrick, North Merrick and Bellmore-Merrick Central High School districts say they do not yet fully know how certain parents’ refusal to allow their children to take new standardized tests will affect the students or their schools.

The new exams are based on the Common Core State Standards, which most states adopted in recent years with prompting from the Obama administration. New York, one of the first states in the country to implement Common Core tests, launched new English and math tests for all public and charter school students in grades three to eight last month.

But a number of students –– including 31 in Merrick elementary schools, 25 in North Merrick elementary schools and 53 in the Merrick Avenue and Grand Avenue middle schools –– never took the exams, as part of a protest that their parents are waging against the tests. The parents, part of a nationwide “opt-out” movement that advocates meeting standardized testing with civil disobedience, argue that the exams hurt their children’s learning and well-being.

Tracey Kaminski, a North Merrick parent and an earth science teacher at Lindenhurst High School, raised several problems that she has with the new exams at a recent North Merrick Board of Education meeting, ranging from the five-year, $32 million contract that the state Department of Education awarded NCS Pearson, a subsidiary of the British multinational corporation Pearson PLC, to create English Language Arts and math assessment tests for grades three to eight, to the annual testing of young children in general.

“[My sons] say to me, ‘I hate school. All I do is prep for tests,’” Kaminski said. “I never hated school. And I went to Camp Ave … Never, never did I say [that]. Ever. And none of my friends ever said they hated school. Both of my kids have said that to me. And they’re not bad students; they just hate all of this testing.”

Kaminski is one of many thousands of parents and educational professionals around the state and country who have raised similar objections to Common Core standardized testing.

The opt-out movement


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While I do find the article to be from an interesting perspective, it falls short of asking the real question. Why? The real issue that needs to be looked at is, why is there such an opt out movement at this time? Surely this is not the first state test that our children have taken. If you look closer, the answer is obvious; this is the first core aligned state test. Some of our children have not had that much experience with the core curriculum and are now being held accountable to those standards.

Then you have to look at the company responsible for making these tests. Pearson, the corporation responsible for these tests, has a poor track record. According to a Daily News article, “Testing giant Pearson botched grading the entrance exams to the city’s gifted and talented programs, Education officials said Friday, shutting out about 2,700 kids who qualified for the coveted programs.”

Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/exam-error-shuts-2-700-gifted-talented-programs-article-1.1322573#ixzz2SuyIoY9D

Also in a Wall Street journal article, “To date, 29 questions have been invalidated on various third- through eighth-grade math and English tests, which are used in New York City to determine whether students are promoted to the next grade.”

Read more: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304203604577394492500145150.html

Also according to the Huffington post, “ Public Advocate Bill de Blasio in a statement called on the city to reexamine its relationship with Pearson. "Pearson has an increasingly checkered record with these tests. We were given the same assurances of quality control and heightened standards after last year's problems," de Blasio said.”

Read more: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/22/pearson-testing-errors-new-york_n_3132744.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000003&ir=Education

Let us not forget about last years test where there was a talking pineapple. The moral to the story was that a pineapple doesn’t have arms. It seems the company does not only have trouble in New York. A Huffington post article cited problems all over the country from as far back as 2000, “Florida fined Pearson $4 million because of delays in test score delivery. In Washington, over two hundred thousand writing exams had to be rescored. In Minnesota, Pearson misgraded 45,739 graduation tests, which resulted in a lawsuit with a $11 million settlement. The judge hearing the case found that there had been "years of quality control problems" and a "culture emphasizing profitability and cost-cutting." The article goes on to list many more errors with the corporation.

Read more: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-singer/enough-is-enough-pearson-_b_3146434.html

With so many errors and a poor track record, one would wonder why would NY sign a contract with such a company. The answer is simple, not only does Pearson have a poor history of testing they also have a deep connection to lobbying in Washington. According to a Huffington post article, Sandy Kress, is a key player in the orchestration of No Child Left Behind, and then became a lobbyist for Pearson. It didn’t stop there, “Kress advised Bush as governor, and when Bush became president, Kress -- as a former Democratic Party official in Dallas -- lobbied Ted Kennedy to support NCLB. He enjoyed a smooth transition into lobbying and has enjoyed an insider role in Perry's administration, serving on state advisory boards and commissions that invariably found that the way to improve schools was more testing. Few seemed to mind his dual role as education adviser and Pearson lobbyist. It never caused a stir when Kress would testify before the legislature as a member of the state advisory panels in favor of more testing, leaving his status as a lobbyist for the testing company unstated. And with Kress advising Texas politicians to up the ante on testing, Pearson won increasingly large contracts that ended up totaling $980 million.”

Read full article here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jason-stanford/sandy-kress_b_3069159.html?utm_hp_ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false

One would wonder how could a corporation hold so much power, Huffington post reported, “Pearson money, both from the corporation and from the foundation, gives it tremendous political influence over educational policy decisions in the United States. Michael Winerip reported in The New York Times that the Pearson Foundation was paying to send school officials on free trips to international conferences where Pearson products were promoted and they met with Pearson executives. According to a report in The Texas Observer, "Pearson has it all -- and all of it has a price. For statewide testing in Texas alone, the company holds a five-year contract worth nearly $500 million to create and administer exams. If students should fail those tests, Pearson offers a series of remedial-learning products to help them pass. Meanwhile, kids are likely to use textbooks from Pearson-owned publishing houses like Prentice Hall and Pearson Longman. Students who want to take virtual classes may well find themselves in a course subcontracted to Pearson. And if the student drops out, Pearson partners with the American Council on Education to offer the GED exam for a profit."

Read full article here; http://www.huffingtonpost.com/alan-singer/enough-is-enough-pearson-_b_3146434.html

As a parent that does not have testing age children, I am saddened by all of this. At what point do we stop testing our children to profit corporations? The whole movement really makes one wonder what is really going on here. So yes, it is civil disobedience. At least we know that we need to stand up for our children and stop this lose - lose situation.

Friday, May 10, 2013 | Report this

There are so many things wrong with the current testing system and all of the money being made off of it that it truly boggles ones mind. But for me , one of the biggest issues is how the scores are used. The article keeps referring to children not being eligible for certain gifted programs or honors classes. Wouldn't you think that 6 years of excelling, constantly being above grade level and being a straight A or even an A+ student would get you into those programs. Well you would be wrong. I don't know how all districts decide who gets into these programs but I do know that North Merrick doesn't give a hoot what your kid did for 6 years before entering middle school . All they care about is the state assessment. Can you imagine that a state test and nothing more is considered for these programs. The direct quote from the district was "state assessments are our primary source for placement as we feel they are the only objective source." Wow, even the teachers, who are now being evaluated on these high stakes test have the chance of being evaluated through other sources. Shouldn't our children be given the same consideration. The testing , the money being wasted on it and the consequences for not doing well are way out of control. I applaud every parent, teacher, principal and administrator who are trying to change this disgraceful system.

Friday, May 10, 2013 | Report this
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