A Teacher Tries Opting Out

optout

This is my first blog post and kind of the reason I decided to create my own blog: to keep people updated on what is going on with my request, as a teacher, to be allowed to opt out of administering the flawed Smarter Balanced Assessment.

Last month, my local association stood before our school board to say that as a group, we are opposed to the Smarter Balanced Assessment. I spoke at that meeting and stated that I object to administering it and asked to be excused from administering based on my professional and personal objections.

On March 9th, I had not yet heard a response to my request and sent this email to the school board, our superintendent, and my principal.

“As you all know, at the February 19 school board meeting I declared my strong objections to the Smarter Balanced Assessment and asked to be excused from administering the assessment based on those objections. The statement I made to the school board is attached.

I have objected to this system of test and punish since it’s original implementation in 2001 with NCLB. I knew at that time that a requirement of 100% proficiency by 2014 would result in exactly what has happened in Washington state, where their legislature turned down the Race to the Top waiver and they remain under NCLB: 100% of schools are in “failing” status. There is virtually no goal or standard that can be set, including breathing without assistance, that every child in the nation can meet on the same day at the same time.

I attended a presentation by ODE and saw how their representatives are misleading parents about the SBAC. It made me sick and angry. I feel horrible about trying to put a smiley face on this for parents, and most of all for my students. I know that some of them will be okay. I know that most of them will be frustrated and feel stupid. Even in the best case scenario described by ODE, only 30% will do well. In the case of my students, I feel that will be much lower. ELL students who have taken similar Common Core tests in English around the country have passed at a rate of 3% to 4%, and this is taking away an entire week of instruction that those students would benefit from. If we consider that Migrant Summer School is only 3 weeks long, that puts the significance of that week in stark perspective.

I have not yet received an answer as to whether I will be excused from administering SBAC based on my strong philosophical objections. When I stated in my original letter that this was weighing heavily on my conscience, I was very serious. It keeps me up at night sometimes.

I am scheduled to administer on April 6th through 10th. I would truly appreciate an answer to my question about whether I will be required to administer or not. I would also like to know, if I were to refuse to do so, what the consequences would be for me. I’m not trying to be difficult, I’m just trying to do what I’ve always tried to do: stand up for what’s best for my students. I would like to be able to make a fully informed decision when deciding what actions I take in doing that.

Thank you for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.”

My superintendent responded with a very polite email stating that as a district employee, I am required to administer the state assessment and quoted the Oregon Education Association’s  FAQ “Opting Out of Standardized Tests- FAQs on Your Legal Rights as a Public Educator” which says:

What are the consequences if I choose/refuse to administer standardized tests?
a. You will be subject to discipline up to and including dismissal unless it involves a student whose parents/guardians have opted out and the district has given you notice of the opt out. It has long been school district policy and a job duty of school employees to administer standardized tests. Refusing to administer these tests would be considered a violation of district policy and insubordination. Based upon current law and school district policies regarding testing, school employees should NOT refuse to administer standardized tests without knowing and understanding the consequences.”

He also stated that he, too, is concerned with lost instructional time and the impact of testing on our children and that he hopes we will be moving towards a more sensible approach in the future.

Lots of people have been asking, so that’s where it stands with me administering SBAC. I have scheduled a meeting with my superintendent.

Parents, you can opt your children out. No one can fire you. If you want more information on opting out go to http://optoutoregon.org in Oregon or http://unitedoptout.com for information about other states. Teachers, speak up if you can. Parents trust you. Let’s work together for our kids.

(Reblogged with permission from Kathleen Jeskey)

A Growing Movement of Teachers of Conscience: More in Seattle Refuse to Administer the #SBA/#SBAC Tests –

All Aboard the Opt Out Bus

There are many ways teachers are fighting back against the Common Core high stakes tests.  We delivered our Letters of Professional Conscience to our school board, and Seattle teachers are finding new ways to empower teachers, parents, and students by refusing to administer the test.

This blog exists to tell these stories in order to spread a movement led by courageous teacher leaders – teachers doing what we do best – teaching.  In this case, we are here to teach other teachers how to resist the test. The test is the glue that holds corporate education reform together.  Without the test, corporate reform’s house of cards falls, collapsing the fundamental hoax of so-called “failing schools”.

Things are heating up in Seattle.  Last year it was Scrap the Map (Measures of Academic Progress).  That movement spread across the nation:

“Garfield’s actions helped spark a national movement to oppose the abuses of standardized testing. In Portland, students initiated their own boycott of the OAKS tests. Some 10,000 parents and students marched in Texas against the overuse of high-stakes tests. Kindergartners and their parents staged a “play-in” at the Chicago School District headquarters against the replacement of the arts with norm-referenced exams.” ~ Jesse Hagopian, Liza Campbell (2013), Seattle Times

This year, Nathan Hale’s Senate – which is their leadership team consisting of students, parents, and teachers – voted to refuse to give the SBAC to all 11th grade students.  The Nathan Hale teachers gave the following reasons for their refusal written February 24th, 2015:

Reasons for refusing the SBAC for 11th graders included (summary):
1. Not required for graduation
2. Colleges will not use them this year
3. Since NCLB requires all students pass the tests by 2014, and since few if any schools will be able to do that,  all schools will therefore be considered failing by that standard. There is thus no reason to participate in erroneous and misapplied self-labeling.
4. It is neither valid nor reliable nor equitable assessment. We will use classroom based assessments to guide next instructional steps.
5. Cut scores of the SBAC reflect poor assessment strategy and will produce invalid and unreliable outcomes.
6. Student made this point: “Why waste time taking a test that is meaningless and that most of us will fail?”
7. The SBAC will tie up computer lab time for weeks.
8. The SBAC will take up time students need to work on classroom curriculum.
 

This is an important step. Nathan Hale is asserting its commitment to valid, reliable, equitable assessment. This decision is the result of community and parent meetings, careful study of research literature, knowledge of our students’ needs, commitment to excellence in their education, and adherence to the values and ideas of best-practice instruction. 

This resolution does not mean NHHS will refuse the 10th grade SBAC assessments, sorry to say. But the way the school went about the decision is a powerful model for other schools, and means that anything is still possible in that regard.
 
Yay.
 
Doug Edelstein

Earlier today teachers of Redmond, WA Middle School teachers issued a press release condemning the Smarter Balanced Assessments (SBA/SBAC).  David Sudmeier shared what led the teachers to this decision:

“We have had hours upon hours of administrative and student time dedicated to “preparing for the test.” We have seen teaching time eroded and a decrease in what ought to be a student-centered endeavor. Data-driven decisions have trumped professional judgment. We are exhausted and alienated from our own profession.

We had a union meeting, where I presented the resolution and opportunity for teachers to sign. We had a very productive discussion; a few adjustments to language, and we were ready.”

The press release is as follows:

Press Release
Local Teachers Condemn New Standardized Tests
REDMOND, Washington-March 26, 2015-

Teachers at Redmond Middle School in the Lake Washington School District have publicly announced their objection to the “Smarter Balanced Assessments” to be administered to students this spring. Their announcement comes as educators across the nation have begun to react against standardized testing and its negative effects on teaching and learning.
“For me, it’s a matter of social justice,” said David Sudmeier, a twenty-eight year veteran teacher at Redmond Middle School. “We might as well pass out scores on the basis of family income. These tests pretend to offer an objective measure of student learning, but really discriminate against students who have parents working multiple jobs, who have limited home resources for activities that support learning, and who may go home to a bare cupboard instead of a warm, nourishing meal.”
“We care deeply about student learning,” remarked Shell Lockwood, who is about to end a long career as a teacher of gifted students, “but we don’t get any useful information from these tests. By the time scores are reported, those students have moved on. Every group of students is unique, and we can’t assume that the next group will have the same needs or abilities. These tests are more a distraction from productive teaching and learning than anything else.”
Some people might find it odd that teachers who object to the test are going to administer the test anyway? “Our kids are the bottom line,” said Lockwood. “We want the public to know that we stand by our students to support them in a no-win situation. To abandon them just as testing begins would be unthinkable.”
So what can parents do in this situation? “Many of us are parents, too,” said Adam Wujick, math teacher at RMS. “I am disappointed in the lost instructional time for both my own kids and my students. I know that some parents are opting their children out of standardized testing entirely.”
It’s quite apparent that these teachers are determined to make their voice heard. “We have confidence in the wisdom of parents and the public,” said Sudmeier. “Now we just need our state legislators to heed our state constitution and lift public education to its rightful position as the paramount concern.”

From members of the Lake Washington Education Association of Redmond Middle School, east of Seattle, and part of the Lake Washington School District:
A RESOLUTION OF DISAPPROVAL OF THE SMARTER BALANCED ASSESSMENT
WHEREAS, the stated mission of the Lake Washington School District is that ”Each student will graduate prepared to lead a rewarding, responsible life as a contributing member of our community and greater society;” and
WHEREAS, the Smarter Balanced Assessment is not required for graduation; and
WHEREAS, this computer based assessment will take approximately eight hours for each student to complete and its confusing format is unlike anything students will experience outside the testing environment; and
WHEREAS, student computers and district infrastructure are unreliable and it is unacceptable for students to have learning time diverted to an activity so likely to be plagued with technical issues; and
WHEREAS, the failure rate of the assessment is likely to be extraordinarily high (possibly 60%) for the general population and even higher for students of color, ELL students, and students on individualized education plans; and
WHEREAS, student performance on this test is unlikely to be indicative of learning, but very likely to correlate directly with family socioeconomic status; and
WHEREAS, graduation and standardized testing requirements in Washington State are in constant flux, confusing, and poorly communicated; and
WHEREAS, the sheer number of state mandated standardized tests and End of Course exams deprives teachers of adequate time to provide instruction and for students to learn; and
WHEREAS, some of these exams may impact high school graduation; and
WHEREAS, during the testing window teachers are also administering unit tests, year-end finals and facilitating summative projects; and
WHEREAS, the detrimental impact on school schedules, student learning, teacher and administrative work time is out of proportion to the limited value of the test results; now, therefore, be it
RESOLVED, we, members of the Lake Washington Education Association at Redmond Middle School object to the administration of the Smarter Balanced Assessment for spring 2015 as an unacceptable obstruction to assisting students to “… graduate prepared to lead a rewarding, responsible life as a contributing member of our community and greater society.”
Name

David Sudmeier

Denise Gross

Shell Lockwood

Sacha DeBeaumarchais

Kristin Rhode

Heidi Knable

Adam Wujick

Kaylee Hansen

Mary Chandler

Melissa Brown

Dena Kernish

Carol McCaig

Eric Fredlund

Ben Pinneo

Sara Hall

Scott Nelson

Quinn Thompson

Paul Neet

Kelly Konicki

Meg Town

Kris Kornegay

Chris Fleharty

We are personally grateful to these courageous teachers in Seattle and Redmond. Our students can’t be subjected to another 13 years of increased testing and punishment.  It is time for this movement to grow by empowering teachers across the globe to stand up for children.  Parents and students can find out more information about refusing the test or opting out at http://www.UnitedOptOut.com.

What do you think?  Should teachers across the country join together and refuse to give the test?  Should students and parents join in the movement to refuse the test?  Have you started a movement in your district?  Share your story with us here.

4th Grade Bellevue, WA Teacher Objects to Administering Smarter Balanced Test

 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015 Linda Myrick, a 4th grade teacher in Bellevue, WA  – and a member of the Washington Badass Teachers Association  – objected to the administration of Smarter Balanced Assessments before the Bellevue School Board.

As teachers, we stood with Linda in solidarity.  Several parents and teachers who were at the meeting approached Linda afterwards and told her they agree with every word she said.

You may see her speech here.

 

Good afternoon, members of the board, Dr. Mills.

Yesterday was the birthday of the truly inimitable Dr. Seuss. So, today, in his honor, I’ll try a feeble imitation:

I am the Lorax.
I speak for the kids.
They love coming to school.
But we’ve hit the skids.
I love my job, but not the test.

That makes it hard to do what I think best.

I’m Linda Myrick, fourth grade teacher at Somerset Elementary, here to express my profound concern with the increasing amount and nature of testing and my objection to administering the Smarter Balanced Assessment.

I have a long history in Bellevue, hired by Principal Eva Collins to teach kindergarten in 1997. 18 years and 10 principals later, I can still say that I truly love my job and so many people who have made it interesting, challenging, and great.

But, I have watched the number, quality, and use of tests change dramatically over the years.

When I taught Kindergarten and first grade, we used the DRA, Developmental Reading Assessment. Time consuming, but I sat with my students one on one, listened to them read and answer questions, and I got excellent data to guide instruction.

Now, the DRA is revised to align with Common Core State Standards and children, who previously met standard at the end of Kindergarten, perfectly normal children, are now considered below standard. We don’t seem to care that the standards themselves do not align with normal child development.
Apparently the DIBELS alignment has changed as well.
And now WA Kids in kindergarten.  Teachers walk around with clipboards, rather than “in the moment” with kids.

At our last PD day, Dr. Mills said he feels we don’t have enough IMMEDIATE access to data, but we’ll continue to use the STAR test for consistency. I want all of you to know that I DO have immediate access to THE MOST IMPORTANT DATA that I need every day. I look in the eyes of my students, I listen to their words, I watch them interact with each other, I conference with them, I read their journals.

We are losing the notion of the importance of THIS DATA while we are constantly looking at our reports and clipboards.

STAR Reading data is unreliable. And yet, every week, we sit in MTSS meetings and look at a long list of students with substandard STAR scores. An hour every week discussing every student on this list. We have about one minute per student. These are not quality conversations.

Now we’re getting ready for Smarter Balanced. I am fundamentally opposed to these inappropriate assessments. They will serve little purpose for our students other than to frustrate them with questions written by people who confuse rigor with obfuscation.

I hope all of you have had a chance to take the practice tests—especially the ELA Performance Tasks. There is no way these questions are appropriate to assess the knowledge and skills of the diverse group of learners we have in Bellevue.

We need to get back to authentic, teacher-driven assessment that is appropriate to the needs of our students.

Remember the end of The Lorax? UNLESS. “UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.

Linda later reported:

I am very appreciative of our Bellevue School Board. During a lively public comment period last night, parents and teachers spoke about the negative impact of large class sizes in our elementary schools. Teachers (including yours truly) spoke about our objection to the over-emphasis on state and district testing in our classrooms.

A courageous young man spoke about the “invisible epidemic” of bullying of marginalized students, and even included the bullying of teachers by administration. Even while appreciating all of the strengths of a fantastic school district like Bellevue, we are seeing that the environment that is resulting from current conditions that affect all public schools exists here.

We are not immune. Dr. Mills responded briefly to the concerns in general, while noting that the assessment requirements that we implement in Bellevue are the result of federal and state mandates. He encouraged us to continue to advocate for legislative change. He expressed his support for the removal of annual testing requirements currently in place due to NCLB.

The connection among ALL OF THE CONCERNS discussed last night are clear to anyone who is paying attention. Connect the dots. We need to return our attention to the humanity of the whole child, and this attention must be the foundation of all legislation and policies.

What do you think?  Should we wait until the legislature changes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act before we act?  Should we rely on Congress, corporate reformers, school boards, and administrations to “do the right thing for children” or should we act on our conscience now?  Should local school boards exercise their power and say no to the state and federal accountability system?  

Are you ready to join the growing number of  conscientious objectors to the Common Core tests?  Join us by adding your letter to the comment section here.  Thank you.

Kathleen Jeskey Tells Canby, OR School Board: “I am a conscientious objector to this test.”

Kathleen Hagans Jeskey

“I am a conscientious objector to this test.”

A brave teacher, turned conscientious objector, has stood up to tell her Canby, Oregon School Board she objects to the Common Core state test called the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA). Kathleen Jeskey gives us a first hand report of the event, which was fully supported by their local union.

Christopher Bangs, Canby Education Association (CEA) President and 25 teachers stood WITH Kathleen taking a strong stand against the SBA on Thursday, February 19, 2015 at their local school board meeting.  They asked the school board to pass a resolution against the SBA as Portland has and to hold a work session about the test.

Kathleen has put her job on the line for children, but feels parents have a role to play as well.

“At least the parents know how we feel.  It is up to them, I think…(the district) can’t fire the parents.”

Like the #Renton4, the teachers in Canby invited their school board members to take the practice tests which can be found here.  They too asked the district to tell parents they could opt out and CEA president stated he is opting his own kids out, as did Kathleen’s partner who also spoke out at the meeting.

CEA President, Christopher Bangs stood up before Kathleen spoke, speaking for the entire association to say that the SBA is flawed, going further to say he was opting his own children out of the SBA test.

A Canby high school AP teacher spoke to say how horrible this was for his kids too, as it is using up the time they need to study for tests that actually matter.  A number of teachers who were unable to attend the meeting turned in letters to the school board as well.

Twenty five teachers attended the event standing in solidarity against the SBA, five more turned in letters to the board, and a total of four teaches spoke to the school board.  Kathleen reported:

We got zero push back when we said we were doing it.  We got nothing but support from our union.  I am so glad we did this as a union!

Here is Kathleen’s Letter of Professional Conscience, which can also be found on the Badass Teachers Association blog site here.  (Thank you to  Kathleen Hagan Jeskey and Marla Kilfoyle, General Manager of BATs for permission to print this here.)

I’ve been a teacher since 1987. Since coming to Canby in 1999, I’ve helped implement Backpack Buddies, a dental screening program, and canvassed for at least two levies. I have never shied away from hard work to make a difference in students’ lives, and have always had high standards for them and myself. I have never been resistant to change that I believe will help them.

I am disturbed by what is going on in education right now. Local control is being taken away. Top down mandates have subverted the democratic process. Among those I find most troubling is over reliance on test scores and the new Smarter Balanced Assessment in particular.

Not all teachers give state tests. That falls heavily on elementary teachers. We know our students well. They spend seven years with us. We understand their strengths and weaknesses. We know a lot about their lives. We know that this test will be incredibly difficult for many of them. “Frustration level” is a term used to describe text so difficult for a child that he may give up. This test is at frustration level for many. It will especially harm the most at risk and fragile who already struggle. Belief in one’s self is necessary for success. We spend so much time trying to build them up to believe in themselves as learners and for many, all these tests do is crush them.

The test is not developmentally appropriate. The length of the test alone is problematic. Eight and nine year olds will be testing an average of eight hours and are expected to use new on line tools and type in extensive answers. Again, I’m speaking of third graders, many of whom do not have computers in their homes. In addition to inappropriate tasks, time is taken away from learning and schedules are disrupted for weeks.

Test results are not available in a timely or useful manner. We will not get results until at best near the end of the school year and are not allowed to see student answers to analyze errors. Nor will their next year’s teacher be allowed to see that information.

In the past we could tell the state if a question was flawed (no correct answer, was confusing, or incorrectly translated). There is no longer a mechanism to do that, and we are not allowed to discuss any test items that may be incorrect or poorly constructed; at all; with anyone; not even our supervisors. And I am concerned with the quality of this assessment. It seems that development has been rushed and established ethical practices have been ignored.

And it costs a lot. Our kids have lost so much: elementary PE and band, middle school sports and foreign language, high school art courses, the list is long. How many things could they get back if we stopped spending so much money on testing?

And then there’s the whole data thing: What’s collected? Who sees it? How is it used? How is it protected?

Giving this test when the state says that up to 70% will fail weighs heavily on my conscience. I would never give a test in my class that I knew most students would fail. That is not good practice. The failure rate for Special Education students and English Language Learners will be even higher. States that have already given Common Core tests, have had failure rates up to 97% for those groups. This is a civil rights issue. I am reminded of the literacy tests in the old South.

And someone is making a lot of money off the new tests and curriculum. Testing and curriculum giant Pearson gets more profit if we all buy the same thing as opposed having choice from a variety of curricula and assessments. T-shirt companies could make more money, too, if they could make us all buy plain, white t-shirts but then we’d all be wearing the same plain, white t-shirt.

There’s a lot wrong and not much time here.

I request that the board hold a work session around standardized testing that teachers and parents could attend to discuss this further.

Also, tonight I am informing you that I am a conscientious objector to this test. As a professional career educator, I believe our students deserve better.

This being said, please select one of the options below. Thank you.

___–>__ Kathleen Jeskey, your concerns are noted and valued and you will be allowed to opt out of administering the SBA without any retribution.

OR

___–>_ Kathleen Jeskey, your concerns are noted but administration in this district requires you to administer the SBA despite your objections and the harm, outlined above, that you believe SBA causes.

~ Kathleen Jeskey

Subsequent to taking this courageous stand,  Kathleen reports they have heard nothing from their district.  Stay tuned for updates here as we will continue to report on the progress.

You can find out more about opting your child out of the Smarter Balanced or PARCC Common Core tests at United Opt Out.  Click on your state for more information.

What do you think?  Have you taken the Smarter Balanced Assessment practice tests yet? Have you invited your school board to take the practice tests?  Your legislators?

The #Renton4 Request a Response and Ask Renton School Board to Inform Parents of #OptOut Rights

IMG_8606

It is been two weeks since we delivered our Letters of Professional Conscience to the Renton School Board. We have not received a response from them to date, thus we were prompted to speak to them again this evening.

We met before the board meeting to craft our joint speech to the school board. Although we had touched on some of our talking points in the last two weeks, tonight we strategically planned the tone and content of our speech during the first quiet time we had had together since that important night.

We decided to employ a friendly, yet strong stand in hopes that the school board would take some actions for the benefit our students. Unlike some cities where may oral control has taken root, we still maintain a semblance of local control. We wanted to give our board a chance to use some of this local control for the students we mutually care about.

We decided that only one of us would speak for all four of us tonight so as not to test the board’s patience.

Julianna Krueger-Dauble went to the podium, while Becca Ritchie, Susan DuFresne and two supportive teachers stood in solidarity behind Julianna. Here is what we had to say to our school board this evening:

Members of the board and Dr. Rieger, tonight I speak on behalf of of the four of us who delivered our Letters of Professional Conscience to you two weeks ago.

There is a crisis in education. Much of the message delivered by the steady stream of teachers at these meetings is not in your control. We who have voiced concerns about over-testing, the lack of time, training, and support for our students in this high stakes environment are here to respectfully ask you to take action in some areas that are in your control.

We have heard no response to our concerns about the harm done in the new high stakes testing environment imposed on our students from preschool to high school seniors.

Two weeks ago we presented to you our letters of professional conscience in which we outlined in detail the objections we have to the Smarter Balanced Assessment. These letters included two options for our building administration or you, the board, to choose from. These were the choices we presented to you:

____ Ms. Dauble, Your concerns are noted and valued and you will be allowed to opt out of administering the SBA without any retribution.
OR
____ Ms. Dauble, Your concerns are noted and your professional conscience is being discounted. Administration requires you to administer the SBA despite your objections and the harm, outlined in the narrative, that children will experience.

We know that you don’t have the authority to assign us other duties at our schools on test days but our building administrators can make this decision. Administering this test goes against our conscience and we find it morally objectionable. We will not remain silent. We are joined by colleagues across the country in this stance we are taking for children.

Therefore,

We request that you recommend to our principals that during testing we assume other duties in our buildings to support student learning.

We request that each Board member take the SBA practice tests in ELA and Math at different grade levels.

We request you use the actual technology in our classrooms to take the practice tests as though you are a student so that you may understand their reality.

We request that you show support for parents of Renton by informing every parent of their rights in deciding which tests their child will take; Please consider that just as in a medical diagnostic situation parents would be informed of their rights in choosing which tests their child would be subjected to, so here parents have rights to decide what tests their child may take at school.

We request that you explicitly share that some parents are refusing administration of the SBA test to their children and explain, fairly, the reasons why many parents are opting their children out.

We request that you recommend to the district that our students’ SBA scores are the LOWEST priority data point in instructional decisions and policy.

We ask for your support tonight in this way as a matter of public record but we invite you all to a face to face meeting with us to discuss these issues further. Please look for that invitation soon.

Again, our first request was that you respond to our letters of conscience and we hope that we will hear that response prior to the next board meeting .

Thank you.

It is our sincere hope that our school board will consider and comply with all of our requests. But will they?

Stay tuned as we continue to report on this important movement.

What do you think? Should parents be advised of their rights to opt out of the state test? Should teachers have the right to be conscientious objectors to toxic high stakes testing?

Ken Foster’s Open Letter to Ms. Trina Newton, Superintendent

Ken Foster

 

Attn: Ms. Trina S. Newton, Superintendent of Schools
Administration Center, Geneva City School District
400 West North St.
Geneva, NY 14456
Open Letter to Ms. Trina Newton

Dear Ms. Newton:

In recent years I have been assigned to administer New York State Assessments to students during testing days. I am requesting to be assigned alternative duties during these assessments in the future. As an employee of the Geneva City School District, I feel it is my duty to speak up when practices and policies that cause harm to our students are in place. The assessments administered by Pearson for the State of New York are part of a scheme that is causing harm to our students and may ultimately cause the Geneva City School District to cease to exist as we know it. Participating in this process seems to be the wrong thing to do.

Through the course of my duties as a proctor last Spring, I reviewed the assessments that fourth grade students were administered. As a long time educator, I was very dismayed. These tests seemed to be designed to trick students into answering incorrectly rather than to think through logically and develop sound answers based on facts found in text or mathematical information. Sadly, it is impossible for me to discuss these tests frankly because there is a gag order on all teachers in New York State regarding the contents of the exams. This gag order was put into place after poorly designed and nonsensical test items were made public in 2012. If I were to reveal specific questions, even after the fact, I would put my career at risk.

Outgoing Education Commissioner King has stated that parents deserve to know how well their children are performing. If this is the case, it is essential that parents see the actual tests after they are administered and graded. When the State only releases excerpts from exams, it promotes a culture of distrust. How can parents determine the value of a test if they are never permitted to see the document? Parents also should clearly understand the cut score system. They need to know that these cut scores were designed to fail the majority of students in the State. The results were determined before the tests were taken.

The Governor and State Legislature have acknowledged that the roll-out of new assessments is flawed and, therefore, have delayed consequences for students for several years. At the same time, the Governor has now decided that 50% of an individual teacher’s evaluation should be based on these same flawed tests. Does anyone really think that this is going to result in less pressure for students? The Governor has also decided that 35% of each teacher’s evaluation will be determined by an outside observer. This leaves the Geneva City School District with 15% to work with. Having spent eleven years of my thirty year career working as a middle and high school principal, I am appalled. The Governor does not trust the Board of Education in Geneva with the education of the children in this community. It is only a matter of time before all local control is removed.

I am encouraged by the actions of the Geneva Board of Education on January 12, 2015. The Resolution on High Stakes Testing and the Resolution in Support of Correction of Inequitable and Discriminatory Funding of State Aid are important statements of principle from the elected leaders of our school district. I fully support the sentiments of these resolutions and stand with the Board of Education. Sadly, our Board of Education is hamstrung by New York State. If the district administrators and our Board of Education do not bow to the dictates of the State Education Department, it is threatened that State Aid will be withheld and the district could conceivably come under the direct control of the State.

It is time for all stakeholders in this educational community to make their voices heard in Albany. The students, Board of Education, and educators need your help. Please take a stand for local control of your school district. Geneva is a unique and wonderful place with amazing promise. I am thankful every day that I have the opportunity to serve the young people of Geneva. I wish to continue my service with the support that we truly deserve from our State leaders.

Thank you in advance for your consideration of my request for re-assignment.

Respectfully,

Kenneth P. Foster
Instrumental Music Teacher
North St. School

cc Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

Teachers: A Call to Conscience

“My conscience leaves me no other choice.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

On April 4th, 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his “Beyond Vietnam” speech, declaring “My conscience leaves me no other choice.”  Dr. King went on and “insisted that it was morally imperative for the U.S. to take radical steps to halt the war through nonviolent means (King, ‘‘Beyond Vietnam,’’ 139).  In a Q & A following his speech, Dr. King said:

As I said earlier in the speech, I think the time has come for those of us feel that this war is immoral and unjust to advise young men of the alternative to the draft, which is to serve as conscientious objector. I think this will do a great deal to arouse the conscience of the nation on this whole situation, and certainly if the war is continually escalated I think this will be absolutely necessary. – Dr. King

In a letter to a Navy friend written in 1965, John F. Kennedy wrote on the topic of conscientious objection:

War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector
enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.  
 ~ John F. Kennedy, Letter to a Navy friend, quoted in Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in the White House (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1965), p. 88.

Through No Child Left Behind, through Common Core and its subsequent tests; our own Congress, the US Department of Education, the National Governor’s Association, and the Council for State School Officers have joined corporate education reformers declaring war on America’s public schools. (This war is actually global.)

As a result of this declaration of war – aligned with the passions of conscientious objectors of previous wars, a spark was lit in the hearts and minds of teachers. As teachers, we passionately object to the way testing dominates and distorts instruction and learning for children, preventing teachers from teaching in ways we know are good for children.

A new movement has risen in the Teachers’ Letters of Professional Conscience.  We believe it is morally imperative to take radical steps to halt toxic high stakes testing around the globe.  We write these letters to arouse the conscience of each nation and believe our actions are absolutely necessary.

A re-write of JFK’s quote is meant to inspire our movement:

Governmental and corporate-led war on public schools will exist until that distant day when the Teacher of Professional Conscience enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the corporate reformer does today.

~ Susan DuFresne

On January 28th, 6th grade teacher, Becca Ritchie delivered her letter of professional conscience to our local school board, re-writing and speaking her words echoing Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech, as found here.

“Remember that fear is natural, but there is greater fear in knowing what will happen if we don’t take a stand.”  

– Jia Lee 

Taking this step is a serious matter, and as you can see by the expression on our faces, we knew the seriousness of putting our objections into words, and then into action.  Notably we crossed enemy lines to give our speeches in Bill Gates’ backyard –  aka prime corporate reform territory. As conscientious objectors, we have been forged in the crucible of corporate education reform.

On Wednesday, January 28th,  as one of four teachers in Renton, WA, we stood before our local school board and read our Teachers’ Letters of Professional Conscience.   The #Renton4, as we call ourselves, included Integrated (special ed and general ed) Kindergarten teacher – Susan DuFresne (speech here), 3rd grade teacher – Judy Dotson (speech here), 5th grade teacher – Julianna Krueger-Dauble (speech here), and 6th grade teacher – Becca Ritchie (speech here).

After our objections, we asked our school board to respond to our letters, giving them two options.  Please see these options below:

____ (insert teacher name), Your concerns are noted and valued and you will be allowed to opt out of administering the (insert test name)  without any retribution.
OR
____ (insert teacher name),  Your concerns are noted and your professional conscience is being discounted. Administration in this building or district requires you to administer the (insert test name) despite your objections and the harm, outlined in the narrative, that children will experience.

This ground-breaking movement led by teachers is challenging work.  We want to provide both a space for other teachers to publicly share their letters, a road map for teachers who wish to join our movement, and a space to create solidarity for the growth of this movement. Peggy Robertson of United Opt Out is keeping a list of teachers who refuse to administer the test.  Her updated list as of today is as follows:

Becca Ritchie – Washington
Dawn Neely Randall – Ohio
Dan Hornberger – Pennsylvania (refused to administer PA Keystone Exams)
Another site created by a group of New York teachers including Jia Lee –  called Teachers of Conscience –  can be found here. While we are not alone, we recommend teachers find allies in this important work to stand behind them in solidarity across their districts as they read their letters to their school boards.

Subsequently, we have created a road map for other teachers to follow in our foot-steps.  We are continuing this work with our local school board and will post updates and additional strategies, bumps in the road, suggestions, and successes as the process unfolds.

Please find our objections on our “Our Objections” page, linked here.  If you, as a teacher agree with our objections, you are free to use them, adding your own words in a few paragraphs to personalize your story.  Please work with other teachers in your district prior to going to the school board with your letters.  Once you are ready to read your letters to the school board, please post your letters here in our comment section.  We will publish your letters here on our blog, collecting the Teachers’ Letters of Professional Conscience. This is a call to action.  Direct action.  Imperative moral action. Join us.

What do you think?  Is toxic testing a moral issue?  Should teachers as professionals have an oath of “first do no harm”?  Are you ready to join a movement led by teachers to end toxic high stakes testing?  Are you ready to take a stand, objecting to being used by our government and corporate reformers as an instrument of war on children, teachers, and public schools?