Editor’s Note: The following letter was signed by 34 Ithaca area residents and submitted to the Ithaca Voice.
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Amid the abundance of recent education reforms instituted at the state and national levels, and together with the American Federation of Teachers and New York State United Teachers, we, the undersigned, stand together to oppose New York State grade 3-8 testing in its current form and to support families’ right to refuse the test as a form of civil disobedience in the current climate of political attacks on education at the expense of our students.
Our first objection is that the tests are age-inappropriate. Testing in grades 3-4 takes approximately 50 minutes a day, three days each, for the Math and English Language Arts tests. In grades 5-8, testing time increases to about 60 minutes per session. The average child between the ages of 9 and 11 is developmentally capable of maintaining an academic attention span of about 30-45 minutes at most. The NYS tests therefore exceed children’s ability to focus by up to 200% per session, three days at a time, and yet determine a significant portion of teachers’ Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) and gauge the need for students’ and schools’ academic support.
Next, NYS tests are used to compute Value Added Measure (VAM). Governor Cuomo’s recent efforts to increase (VAM) from 20 to 50% of teachers’ APPR are misguided and potentially harmful. VAM is computed by comparing students’ scores on two standardized tests, one at the beginning and one at the end of the school year (or end of the previous year). The concept is that “quality” teachers will be able to improve students’ scores. We know, however, that VAM is not a statistically valid means of assessing teachers.
Both the National Association of Secondary School Principals and the American Statistical Association (ASA) advise against using VAMs to evaluate teachers. The ASA notes that, “VAMs … do not directly measure potential teacher contributions toward other student outcomes,” and tells us that “teachers account for about 1% to 14% of the variability in test scores.” Furthermore, we know that 50-80% of the factors that influence a child’s performance on a test can be attributed to one-time factors; therefore, a hot day in a testing room with a barking dog outside has the potential to decrease a student’s score test score and, consequently, threaten the teacher’s livelihood under a system that uses VAM. Given these realities, it is inappropriate to attribute so much weight to a single test used to evaluate children and teachers.
In addition to the issues noted above, we oppose the NYS 3-8 tests because the passing rate is set after the tests are taken, such that 70% of students were labeled “failures” last year; because scores are unavailable as information to students’ current teachers and are not published until after the following year’s scheduling has been completed; and because we believe the test is designed to create a guise of public-school failure in which a disproportionate number of students and schools will fail regardless of their skills or their teachers’ skills. We have also witnessed cruel pressure placed on students, who not only bear the stigma of a “failing” score but are burdened by the worry that somehow their poor scores will negatively impact their teachers and/or schools, though neither concern is accurate.
Finally, we believe it is fundamentally unfair to rest a broken political system on the backs of children, in the name of education. Excessive testing undermines teachers’ expertise and creativity, threatens the richness and variety of individual classrooms, and risks draining the joy out of teaching and learning.
It is our hope that supporting parents’ right to refuse the state tests will spark conversations about what is educationally valuable rather than politically and economically gainful, and will eventually change the current testing system. In this spirit, we urge NYSED, the Board of Regents, and Governor Cuomo to undertake serious revision of the testing protocol.
Leslie Detwiler Setlock
Angelika St. Laurent
Nate Silas Richardson
Jennifer Savran Kelly
Allison Deutsch Andersen
Kathy Harpham Hopkins
Tobi B. Feldman