By Jeanne Zimmerman
More so than any other year, student testing has taken center stage in local news reports, throughout the Web and across social media. The New York State Education Department has issued stern warnings to school districts and to parents that no one may “opt out” of state assessments. If any building has less than 95 percent attendance on any given test day, the state will pull funding of Title I programs. Title I programs help the students who are educationally at risk of not meeting the state’s standards in reading, writing and mathematics. That’s right – if parents refuse to be bullied by the state’s mandates, the state will punish the school’s neediest pupils.
Parents have many reasons for wanting to “opt out” of testing. Test preparation certainly takes away from time that could be spent on instruction. In New York and across the country, we are testing students on material from an incomplete, unproven and developmentally inappropriate curriculum called the Common Core. Our students are taking far too many tests: pre-tests and post-tests in every discipline, weekly and biweekly probes, tests on content materials, comprehensive tests from the state, field tests and Regents examinations. Some object to the use of our students’ scores to evaluate teachers instead of providing information that could be used to drive instruction.
As the parent of a child with a disability, I object to the state disallowing many of my child’s testing modifications. I object to the fact that because my child processes information more slowly than his peers, he will be subjected to three-hour testing sessions. I object to the fact that parents no longer have access to sample tests and that no one – not even the school administrators – can explain how the state comes up with the score for each child. I object to the fact that test scores will be used to judge the value of his teachers who will, undoubtedly, be labeled “ineffective” by his disability and the handicapping conditions of the children she has chosen to work with. These tests were not made to measure the progress of students with disabilities.
Students are not products. The worth of each cannot be measured by a quality assurance test. Not every student progresses at the same rate or comes to class at the same ability levels. Good teachers differentiate the materials and the assessments they use to fit the needs of their students. Experienced teachers would never give a test to a student that is written several grade levels above the student’s reading ability; the results would be invalid. Somehow, New York State feels that this is the best way to figure out just how much learning has taken place under a particular educator.
It seems that the “opt out” movement is just the beginning. Parents have found their voice and are finally saying “enough.” There must be a better way.
Jeanne Zimmerman of North Tonawanda is the parent of a child with disabilities.