An increase in state-mandated testing coming next school year could lead Nyack and Valley Cottage parents to organize a boycott of field tests that students in various grades are slated to take this June.
Possibilities of the boycott were discussed Wednesday night hosted by Restore Education Funding (REF), a coalition of parents that started in Nyack but has started reaching out to other school districts in and out of Rockland.
The event was held at Living Christ Church in Nyack and featured Nyack superintendent of Schools Dr. James Montesano talking to the roughly 40 parents in attendance about the increased mandated testing and teacher assessments coming.
“We’re at a crossroads for public education in this country,” said Montesano, who’s been in public education for 35 years. “I’ve never seen the level of assessment and level of importance placed on assessment we’re at currently.”
Part of the group’s issue with the increased testing is not only instruction time lost in the classroom, but also that test preparation eats further time.
Additionally, since the tests are being used more for teacher assessment, the group has voiced concerns that teachers might feel added pressure for students to perform well on the exams.
“I can coach any student up to do well on a test if I know what the test looks like,” Montesano said. “I can tell you, student learning is something completely different.”
Montesano said he thinks schools have been doing a worse job of preparing students with skills to use in life. He said the things he thinks are important to learn about, which schools need to teach more of, are how to “communicate well, solve complex problems, write well and work well with others.”
More tests, Montesano said, are only going to “hamstring their innovation” more. Just earlier Wednesday, Montesano attended a play at Upper Nyack Elementary School about worms, and he said the kids all memorized their lines and even wrote part of the play.
“Is that teacher going to be able to spend time doing something like that again if she has to prepare her class for however many tests a year?” he said.
Montesano added that the district just got their guidelines for all the tests last week, and they have to have a plan in place by July 1 on how to implement all the tests, which they have to send to the state for approval. He said they’ve had countless meetings on how to develop the student learning objectives for each grade. Each subject will have a test at the beginning of the year and one at the end to measure how much the students learned.
“The state tells us they don’t have to be bubble tests, they don’t have to be paper [and] pencil tests,” Montesano said. “They can be portfolios, it can be performance based. Then we’re talking about a concert performance. Here’s the rope, we also have to have some form of demonstration that these are reliable and valid measures of assessment.”
He said the issue with doing that is if the tests demonstrate a lack of performance in moving kids forward in regards to the measurement of the assessment, and the school tries to fight it, they can receive a grievance.
“Part of that grievance will be for us to demonstrate reliability of measures, which is why many school districts are looking to purchase vendor-made tests because the vendor test demonstrate reliability of measures and validity,” he said. “However, those tests probably are not measuring what we’re really teaching, and those tests are going to force our kids into these bubble sheets to respond to various answers. That’s the dilemma that we’re faced with.”
After his portion of the event, Montesano left so the group could discuss possible plans of action to take. The biggest thing coming up for the group are the field tests coming up in June for students in different grades depending on their school. Jen Marraccino, of REF, said the field tests don’t count towards the students’ scores or teachers’ assessments, they are used as research for the company that makes the tests.
“I didn’t give my child permission to take these tests for a for-profit company that’s not putting any money back into the district,” said Heather Cornell, of REF. “It’s like the kids are working for them.”
REF members have been in contact with other groups in the state that are thinking about boycotting the field tests, but the main issue that came up Wednesday night was how to do it. REF has a letter on their website that was also handed out at the meeting it hopes parents will sign and deliver to their school principals. The letter says the parent doesn’t give permission for his or her child to participate in the test and would like for the student to have an “alternate instructional activity.”
Marraccino said she heard from one parent who turned the letter into a principal at an elementary school, the principal said the student wouldn’t have to take the test but an alternate activity couldn’t be provided. Marraccino called the principal and asked what would happen if a number of parents turned them in, and the principal said if enough parents sent in the letter the school would most likely provide an alternate activity. Marraccino told the group to let other parents know about the letter and try to get them turned in within the next two weeks.
“Ideally, we want the principals to have enough letters that they can go to the superintendent and say this many students aren’t taking the test, and then the test won’t be given,” she said.
If the letter-writing campaign doesn’t work, however, the group discussed a few ideas on what to do. One would be to not send the students to school at all, while someone in the crowd brought up having the students go in and fill out all “a’s” or whichever letter on the test.
The issue with both of those, Marraccino said, is a big reason they don’t support all the increased testing is because it takes away from classroom instruction. Taking the kids out of school or having them waste time by filling out all the same letters on a test doesn’t do anything to get the class time back.