The Fundamental Problems With High Stakes Testing and What Parents Need to Know

Children in grades 3-8 will take standardized state tests that assess reading and math every year for six years and science in fourth and eighth grade. “President George W. Bush’s signing of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002 ushered in the current era of high-stakes testing.” But what is the purpose of all this testing? You may remember taking a standardized test when you were younger. So what’s the big deal?

You may have taken a standardized test, but did you take this many tests when you were in grade school?  There are a few fundamental problems with this model of high stakes testing that you may not be aware of. One major problem is the financial toll that it takes on local school districts. In a year where there should be a surplus in New York for education, my hometown school district is cutting 13 positions in order to balance the budget. Did you know funding that should be spent supporting the education of our children is being diverted away to corporations that will make huge profits off this yearly testing? Previously there were two testing grades in NYS, fourth and eighth grade. Now instead of simply testing on these two grade levels we test in every grade from third to eighth. The cost of testing has increased significantly because we have tripled the amount of years that our children are assessed. Has the cost been justified?

Does all this testing improve the education of students?

“A 2012 study by the Brookings Institution determined that states spend $1.7 billion per year on testing, an enormous increase over the $423 million states spent in 2001 before NCLB, according to the Pew Center on the States. All of this money has fueled a booming testing industry, with companies like Pearson racking up billions in sales. A POLITICO investigation published on February 10, 2015 revealed that Pearson receives tens of millions in taxpayer dollars even though there is “little proof its products and services are effective.”

Wait a minute, did that last sentence say “little proof its products are effective”? Isn’t that the idea of these standardized tests, to hold our school districts accountable for the education of our children? This is another major fallacy with regards to high stakes testing. Standardized implies that we are comparing apples to apples each year. That is an assumption that no longer holds true. The data used to hold public schools “accountable” has been manipulated and falsified for a lot of different reasons.

“Just dismiss any thought of a meaningful, year-to-year comparison. The state’s ability to predetermine the percentages of students “passing” New York’s Regents Common Core exams (and to alter raw-score-to-cut score conversions) makes any comparisons of “gains” from one year to the next wholly artificial.”

“There are myriad ways that test scores can be manipulated to make a student or a school appear to be doing better than they actually are. For example, states have lowered the scores students need to pass, according to a 2009 report published in the International Journal of Education Policy and Leadership.”

“Furthermore, arguments assume that standardized tests are good proxies for student learning, which oftentimes is not the case. According to Stanford University professor of education Linda Darling-Hammond, “The tests we use, particularly the state standardized tests, are extremely narrow. Evidence shows that they measure almost exclusively low-level skills.” A 2012 study from the RAND Corporation backs this claim, finding that only three to 10 percent of elementary and middle school students in the United States were administered tests that assessed deeper learning skills. And even the low-level skills that the tests do measure can be impacted by how much sleep the student got the night before the test and whether the room where the student took the test was too hot or cold.”

When students are assessed on a narrow skill set the consequences are very serious. Schools feel obligated to prepare for standardized exams and deviate from the curriculum that they would normally be teaching. This is also problematic because there are a limited number of teaching hours available. One of the biggest complaints that you will hear from a teacher is that there is never enough time to cover all the material. It’s bad enough that the days spent testing are days that teachers stand around proctoring and not teaching, but the real travesty is that weeks before state testing begins teachers put aside their lessons, that are part of the scope and sequence, to familiarize students with the format of the test. This frustrates teachers because the testing interrupts the instruction of skills that children will need by the end of the school year and that need to be assessed in a meaningful way. Also, teachers and parents want to know the specific skills that their children need to improve, but the NYS test doesn’t give you the specific results . If your child has taken a NYS exam your were mailed a number grade, 1-4, but you don’t know what skills your child is deficient in. Can your child identify the main idea of a story? Are they good at inferencing? Can they identify the setting of a story? Do they have difficulty with vocabulary? You just won’t know from the feedback given by NYS, however the source of this valuable information is your child’s teacher. It’s ironic because education reformers will say that you need accountability from teachers. Meet with your child’s teacher, or take a look at your child’s report card. You will receive a wealth of information on your child, unlike the number grade that you receive from NYS.i

“the NYS test doesn’t give you the specific results…,

you don’t know what skills your child is deficient in.”

“Those who have analyzed the raw score to scaled score conversion charts provided by the New York State Education Department (NYSED), have raised concerns that NYSED may well have manipulated raw score to scale conversion numbers in order to increase proficiency rates.”

Yes, you read that correctly. The data is manipulated, but why is the data manipulated? That’s where the politics of education come in. Did you ever notice that before an election you will get conflicting view points as candidates vie for candidacy. One politician, will tell you that public schools are failing and they will remedy this situation once elected. The other politician will tell you about the incredible growth that has occurred under their tenure. Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Cuomo are both guilty of such practices.

“Standardized tests exist for administrative, political,

and financial purposes, not for educational ones.”

“Member of the New Paltz Board of Education, and strong critic of state testing and Common Core curriculum, Michael O’Donnell, has analyzed this data closely and has reported to his district that if the scores associated with proficiency had not been lowered, students throughout the state would, in fact, show a decrease in performance on the Common Core based ELA and State Math exams over the past few years.

In completing his analysis of the state testing in New York, Michael O’Donnell, stated, “Assessment proficiency rates, in addition to not being reflective of college readiness or grade-level skills, are now not comparable to previous years’ results and have been subject to aggressive manipulation. It is hard to find any utility in these data.”

“Evidence grows we are entering a new era of mass delusion and test score inflation- including cut score manipulation”

We are exhausting scarce resources in this absurd age of over testing. Is it really necessary? Don’t we already know the results before we receive them? Try this for yourself. I will name four school districts in Westchester County. Can you figure out the ones that have a proficiency rate on the 2017 ELA of over 70% and the ones that have a proficiency rate under 30%? The four districts are Port Chester, Bronxville, Ossening and Scarsdale. If you aren’t sure you can google the result.  If you are familiar with this area, then you instinctively knew the answer.  Did we really need to spend an obscene amount of taxpayer revenue to come to this conclusion?

”we are entering a new era of mass delusion…

Don’t we already know the results before we receive them?“

“One thing it seems standardized tests are exceptionally good at measuring is socioeconomic status.

The predictability of standardized tests are influenced more by the education and income level of a student’s parents than by a particular teacher. If our country owned up to this fact, then we could move forward with real solutions rather than blaming public education.

It is time to acknowledge that putting an enormous amount of weight on standardized test scores does not work, and to move on to other solutions.”

Here are some problems with high stakes testing in New York:

1) They siphon necessary funding away from our local school districts

2) The results/data are manipulated thus invalidating their intended purpose

3) They narrow the curriculum because teachers are forced to spend time on test prep

4) They assess low level skills that don’t necessarily reflect the curriculum

5) They shorten the school year depleting valuable instructional time

6) The questions are often convoluted and not developmentally appropriate

7) The reading passages used are often three to four grade levels above the grade level being tested

8) There is a possibility that your child may sit with a test for the entire day.

9) Standardized tests exist for administrative, political, and financial purposes, not for educational ones.  Test companies make billions.  Politicians get elected by promising better test results.

I wrote this article with the hopes that you will understand this issue better. I truly hope that you will act upon this information. People have asked me what I get out of this activism. Occasionally I even have to explain that I’m a private citizen and that I don’t profit from this in any way, however, there are many corporations that will profit heavily from the false narrative that public education is failing in our country. Don’t believe it. Question who is spreading this fabrication and their motivation, financial or political, for this deceitful message.

”the false narrative that public education is failing in our country.”

When you see media that claims public education is failing question the source. A quick google search often identifies special interests that stand to benefit from the false narrative that public schools are failing based on standardized test scores. You are deceived when you don’t know the connection to the source. If they have ties to Bill and Melinda Gates (who were largely responsible for the hasty, disastrous and unproven implementation of the common core), educational technology companies, private/charter schools, or standardized testing publishers, then you can be assured that they stand to profit from public funds that would be better utilized by your school district.  Also try to find out if they donated money to political campaigns.

What does Bill Gates have to do with all of this? The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation didn’t just bankroll the development of what became known as the Common Core State Standards. With more than $200 million, the foundation also built political support across the country, persuading state governments to make systemic and costly changes.

Yes, it is true that Bill Gates is the second richest person in our country right now, but does that qualify him to be an expert in education? While technological products are being pushed into public schools the opposite is happening for children whose parents work in this industry. Low-tech parenting has been a quiet staple among Silicon Valley moguls for years.

It was very difficult for my wife and I to opt our children out of the NYS standardized testing for the first time when my oldest daughter was in fourth grade. We were the type of people that followed the rules. We were uncomfortable practicing civil disobedience. I think you should know that both of my daughters are on the high honor roll.  We don’t opt out because we feel these exams will be difficult for our daughters.  We opt out because standardized testing is a farce.  Now we feel, as a family, that it is our duty to protest these exams. Haven’t we been bamboozled long enough? The goals of standardized testing as outlined by our government does not meriting the cost. Our children deserve better. Please join this revolution and say no to standardized testing. Real change will come only if enough people opt their children out of these problematic exams.  Opting out is powerful.  It is the most effective strategy that ordinary citizens have used that has resulted in change.


The Case Against Standardized Testing – The Harvard Political Review

Will New York State Flunk Most of the Class of 2022? – Huffington Post

Did NYSED Manipulate Test Scores to Boost Proficiency? –

Evidence grows we are entering a new era of mass delusion and test score inflation- including cut score manipulation – New York City Public School Parents

How Bill Gates pulled off the swift Common Core revolution – The Washington Post

15 Reasons Why Standardized Tests are Worthless – American Institute for Learning and Human Development

The Adverse Effects of High Stakes Testing

I am a parent of two daughters who lives in the suburbs and a veteran teacher who works in an urban city. I have both perspectives in mind when discussing education “reform” and standardized testing.

I am deeply troubled by the direction that education has taken due to mandates by policy makers, especially in the last five years since the implementation of Common Core and the effect “for profit” corporations have had on standardized testing.

I have a distinct perspective that differs from most parents due to the fact that I am a teacher. I have the unique opportunity to see the New York State tests and witness what happens when students take them.

In 2012 I proctored the first Common Core NYS test while my oldest daughter was taking the fourth grade exam. Prior to the test, for the first time, I had heard about the Opt Out movement, however the thought of civil disobedience made my wife and I uncomfortable. We are people who follow the rules. This changed for me when I proctored the test knowing my daughter was taking this developmentally inappropriate exam. We made the wrong choice that year and my daughter paid the price, not only on those days, but much of the year with curricular based on Common Core. We have refused the exams ever since for both of our daughters.

I have been passionate about this movement, especially after attending a presentation by Diane Ravitch at SUNY Purchase. From Wikipedia – Diane Silvers Ravitch is a historian of education, an educational policy analyst, and a research professor at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. Previously, she was a U.S.Assistant Secretary of Education. She explained to the audience how educational policy was changing and why.  She encouraged civil disobedience.

I have collected the following information while reading articles and discussing education on social media. Most of these ideas are quotes from extraordinary people who are fighting for our children. My intention is to share this information that was scattered on my iPad. I hope this information will help parents new to the concept of civil disobedience join the opt out movement and refuse state tests in order to facilitate change for all children. The current direction that schools are taking is hurting our children and their chances of success in the future. Please take the time to reflect on these ideas.

-Students will be adversely affected by high stakes testing. Tax dollars are being redirected from public schools to testing companies and charter schools. If you don’t fight now our schools and your children will not receive a rich education. The curriculum will narrow and our teacher’s time and your kids’ time, not to mention funding, will go to test prep. How does this benefit our children? This is your opportunity to have a say in the quality of your child’s education. Refuse the test.

-These tests are designed to fail kids. The policy makers can design any outcome they like by using difficult questions or easy questions or balancing the types of questions. NYS common core tests are not the tests (we) parents have taken. Did you take tests that take 3 hours a day or more for 6-8 days from 3rd grade to 8th grade? Protect your children. Refuse these tests.

-The cut scores are not determined by science or research, they are arbitrary.
The common core tests are designed to fail the majority of students and that is exactly what is happening in NY state. The cut scores are not based on science or research, but subjective judgement.

-Testing is used to diagnose kids so they can get the help they need. These tests are given at the end of the year. NYS common core tests have no diagnostic value, which means they have NO VALUE AT ALL.

-Continuing to implement the common core tests means our students spend more time on test prep which narrows the curriculum, and spend less time actually learning. It also cuts back on, or eliminates the arts and other subjects suffer as more time and money goes to testing and test prep. Basically the curriculum in NY is test driven based on developmentally inappropriate common core exams. They suck funding and teaching time out of the curriculum.

-We are test obsessed-
The test scores should be called the family wealth index.
No high-performing nation does it, and neither should we. We are the most over-tested nation in the world, and it’s time to encourage children to sing, dance, play musical instruments, imagine stories, create videos, make science projects, write history papers, think creatively, collaborate, and discover the joy of learning.
Children are much more than a test score.

-Is there always a right answer to every question? Life requires critical thinking and looking beyond the obvious. Don’t penalize people who think differently. Let’s foster creativity. When we place so much emphasis on the right answer, we penalize children who think differently. We crush creativity and reward conformity.
We are squeezing the life out of the curriculum. We’re squeezing the arts out of the curriculum. We’re squeezing curiosity out of the curriculum.

-More than 500 experts signed a letter that the CCSS are developmentally inappropriate.

-Will kids love school if they continue to fail?
Things will change when people take action. Civil disobedience is the only way to get the attention of policy makers.

-People intimately involved with creating or pushing Common Core are making a lot of money despite having demonstrated exactly zero proven success at increasing student achievement.
The real reason for underachievement, which is rarely addressed, is poverty. Schools that have a significant amount of poverty will have low achievement. Bad test scores really comes down to schools that don’t have enough resources to serve the needs of kids.

-A vast social experiment. This is sheer madness! When they speak of reform what they really mean is privatization. When they speak of accountability what the really mean is rigid reliance on standardized testing.

-Isn’t that the point? To reduce the quality of education by mandating these tests and tying them to teacher evaluations. Professional educators cannot do their jobs the way they know best.

-“There is no evidence that evaluating teachers based on gains in student test scores will improve teacher quality. The American Statistical Association estimates teachers affect test scores by a factor of 1% to 14% , and that evaluating teachers by scores may actually reduce quality.”

Reasons to refuse the tests-
1- One size does not fit all. Kids need differentiation.
2- These tests are developmentally inappropriate.
3- They take up valuable time administering and preparing for. They are also very expensive. Our schools can utilize these funds and time much more effectively.
4- They narrow the curriculum.
5- Their validity is questionable. NYS had to disregard some questions.
6- Refusing the tests shows support for your teachers and respect for our schools who are better equipped to make decisions for our kids.
7- They have no diagnostic value which means that they have no value.

If you agree with these idea, then I highly encourage you to share them with your friends and neighbors. Many parents don’t have enough information to make an informed decision and teachers are not allowed to advocate for your kids on school grounds. Unless you see your child’s teacher outside of school, then you will not hear their opinion on standardized tests and how they hurt your child’s educational experience.

If you read the whole article, then I applaud your due diligence on behalf of your child. I sincerely wish you and your family well.

Who Benefits From State Exams?

Assessment has an important role in student growth. Reflection can be powerful. The question parents need to ask is, “What is the actual purpose of the New York State Common Core exams?” Seriously, for parents who say you can’t opt out when life gets hard, which seems to be the “Opt In” rally call, I ask, “What did you child get on last year’s exam? What were they good at and what did they need to improve?

What exactly is the benefit for students, parents, and teachers? The stakeholders receive far too little information in regards to the results, and consequently the needs of the students taking the exams. Assessment guides instruction in education, however the state only gives a score of 1, 2, 3, or 4. From the EngageNY website – “Performance Level: Students are assigned a Performance Level based on how they perform on the test. There are four possible performance levels: NYS Level 1, NYS Level 2, NYS Level 3, and NYS Level 4”. We have become a nation obsessed with numbers. What practical information does that give stakeholders? Educators and parents already know the strengths and weaknesses of the child. Truthfully, these tests were never about children. Educators weren’t involved in the creation of these exams. Corporations make them, for a profit.

When I was a new teacher fresh out of college I began my career with a lot of exuberance and noble ideas. I worked long hours planning out my lessons thinking extensively about the material that I was going to teach. In spite of this, as much as I poured my soul into planning, the lesson rarely went the way that I anticipated. The human equation almost always demanded that I adapt the delivery of my plans to fit the cognitive and emotional needs of my students.

Good teachers adapt what they intend to teach in order to meet the needs and abilities of the student. This is by no means a simple process. It is difficult and messy at times. Growth and change rarely come easy.

Real learning occurs in the back and forth negotiation between teacher and student. The feedback that a teacher receives from her students is vital in the context of growth. There are many pathways to assessment that a teacher utilizes to gain this feedback about a student’s abilities and needs. Equipped with this feedback new plans are created and once again adapted. This feedback is crucial in order to address the needs of the student.

I suggest that Pearson, the current corporation that made the NYS Common Core exams, is like a new teacher detached from the human element and hasn’t learned to adapt. Corporations developing these exams are forging ahead with their own agenda irrespective of child development and the feedback which the opt out movement, made up of parents and teachers, has given them for the last five years.

I have been teaching at the elementary level in NY for 20 years. I have observed first hand how the New York State exams have evolved. Prior to Common Core, students were only administered State tests in fourth grade and eighth grade. The ELA and math tests took two days each. The results were returned to the schools that same year. Back then the schools received detailed information on which items their students answered correctly and which were incorrect. For items that the students got wrong, the results identified a strategy that the student was having difficulty with. This was useful information for stakeholders. For example, in ELA the analysis informed educators whether a student was having trouble identifying the main idea of a text, applying inferential thinking, understanding vocabulary, etc. This was concrete information that identified the needs of a student, although in most cases the student’s teacher already gleaned this information from their daily classroom interaction.  Years ago the exams were fair. The reading passages were on grade level with perhaps one passage above grade level.  The questions were more appropriate with a few higher-level questions included to see which students were comprehending on an advanced level.  Today’s tests have passages that are almost always above grade level and the questions are ambiguous and confusing.

I originally asked what you learned from last year’s state test, “What was your child good at, and what did they need to improve?” Here is the suggestion from EngageNY.  Ask your child’s teacher. Why do they have this posted on their website? Because you won’t receive this information from the corporate exam.

As per the EngageNY website-
“We encourage you to work with your child’s teachers and other educators to put together a plan to specifically target what your child learns and how he or she learns best. If you are concerned by your child’s overall score, or by your child’s performance on a specific subscore, we encourage you to:
• Ask your child’s ELA teacher about which skills your child finds most challenging.
• Review with your child his or her ELA class work and homework to see how he or she is progressing in the same skills.
• Talk to your child’s ELA teacher and/or the principal to see if your child may need additional, targeted support to improve these skills.
• Advocate for your child to receive additional support as needed. Students whose Performance Level is either NYS Level 1 or NYS Level 2 may be eligible for academic interven on services (AIS) from their schools.”  (The schools know who these students are and they are already receiving AIS services.  Receiving this information from a state test at the end of June to identify services is just rediculous.)

Today in the 21st Century there are huge profits to be made from tracking data. Corporations are competing with one another for your data, which is more commonly being bought and sold. The minute that your child is reduced to a data point, then you know that the human element is irrelevant.

Learning occurs through the interaction between a student and a teacher. Children develop at different rates and have vastly different needs. Corporations that put together standardized tests lack this basic understanding. They are not interested in the needs of children. We can no longer afford to keep investing so much time, money and resources in these assessments that have such little value. New York has wasted five years with these developmentally inappropriate exams and the results do not justify the cost. The New York State Common Core exams have no useful purpose for students, parents, or teachers. It’s time for New York to let their own teachers make an exam that benefits students and drives real instruction.

What Parents Should Know About Standardized Tests

You may be familiar with the Opt Out movement by now. At this time of year, people begin talking about whether or not to opt their children out of the New York State Common Core testing protocol once again, or for some families to opt out for the very first time. Unfortunately many people are still confused about this movement. I will often hear people that don’t really understand what is at stake say something to the effect of, “We had to take tests as kids.” and other similar sentiments. Some people rationalize this experience as a necessary part of growing up that offers a benefit to children. As a veteran teacher with over 20 years of experience I disagree with this notion.

Let me try to give you some information about the Common Core exams and why they might not be in the best interests of your children.

There is a misunderstanding that often gets repeated that claims the United States is falling behind other countries in education, Education gets blamed for a faltering economy.  Usually the supporting detail that is quoted is, “Just look at the PISA scores.” So what exactly does PISA test?

PISA, as well as Common Core, focuses on reading and mathematics, however mastering these tests don’t correspond to mastering any truly important life skills. Does coming up with the right answer on a multiple choice question on a limited time assessment sound like any experience that you have encountered at work or while making life altering decisions for your family? Standardized tests have little relevance to real life. A big problem with these tests is that policy makers, and people who don’t really understand this issue, assign so much importance to information that is easy to test and correct. Just because it is easy to test, doesn’t mean that is is important.

So what is important for your child if they are to be successful in their lives? Unfortunately, none of these skills that will be necessary to your children throughout their lives will be tested on the New York State Common Core exams. I encourage you to assist your child in improving these essential skills because they will help make life a lot easier for them. State exams will not assess your child’s level of motivation, perseverance, resourcefulness, collaboration, communication, creative problem-solving, innovation, or ethics. Until they do, your child will spend their formative years preparing for tests, not life. Don’t accept this! Join the opt out movement which sends the message that we will not tolerate this way of thinking in our public schools any longer.

It is extremely expensive in terms of time, money, and opportunity to test our children on such a massive scale. The goal is to rank every student on a bell curve that doesn’t have anything to do with assessing whether students have mastered essential skills.

Not only have the Common Core tests been developmentally inappropriate each year, they are also a big waste of time and resources. They continue year after year due to the fact that the test prep industry is roughly a $4 billion dollar industry that actively lobbies Congress.

The Common Core exams do not benefit your children. They are actually harmful because education will not evolve as long as policy makers chase higher standardized test scores instead of educating our youth for a world of innovation and opportunity. There simply is no correlation between standardized test scores and how people perform in the real world.


Parents Demand Change

I am deeply disappointed in the direction that education has taken in the last few years. Let me preface this by explaining my qualifications to make such a statement. I have 25 years of experience as a teacher. I am appalled by the leadership of the NYS Regents, the NYS Commissioner of Education Mary Ellen Elia, and the U.S. Department of Education Secretary of Education John King.

When I was a undergraduate student at Pace University, and then later a graduate student at Manhattanville College, I learned remarkable teaching concepts such as the whole language approach and child centered learning. Today the names made up to describe educational policies are carefully crafted to deceive with titles such as “No Child Left Behind” and charter schools called “Success Academy.” These are manipulated titles that rarely live up to their promises.

We are short changing our most precious commodity, our children, with today’s test, label, and punish agenda. I find the title “Common Core” offensive. Children are not common, nor is the way they learn. Every child is special and each child has a unique type of intelligence. To deliver programs that attempt to teach all children the same standard at the same age is absurd. The cost is enormous, not only in the dollars that are siphoned out of under funded public schools, but also by robbing our children of the well rounded quality education that they deserve if they are to succeed in the future.

There is an attack on children, teachers, and public education from those who seek power and profit. In order for tests to be helpful they need to be diagnostic. The NYS Pearson Common Core exams are neither diagnostic nor helpful. They continue to be developmentally inappropriate and have not delivered on their promises to improve education in our country.

We can no longer rely on today’s leaders. It is up to resolute parents and students to demand change. The only effective measure that will drive this transformation is the Opt Out movement.  If parents work together then change will come.  Take every opportunity that you have to speak out on behalf of our children and recruit other parents to join this movement.  Civil disobedience is extremely difficult for many people.  The forces that intimidate families into accepting this broken system and to remain quiet on this issue are relentless.

Going to Hell in a Handbasket

I can’t lie.  I am really worried about the world that we live in today.  Last week terrorists attacked Paris.  A fanatical regime attacked innocent unsuspecting civilians as they went about living their lives.  It was very difficult to comprehend. The terrorist won.  I became worried about the safety of my children going forward from that very moment.

A few days later I was sitting in a meeting at my elementary school going over data that proved what we already knew; a large percentage of our low income second language learners are reading below grade level.  Toward the end of the meeting it was suggested that we stop providing art and music to the lower grades and replace this time with additional reading instruction.   Respected colleagues of mine were losing their minds.  You could hear the tension in their voices as two of my coworkers tried to manufacture the argument that it can be considered cruelty to children because they aren’t reading on grade level and questioning what the future holds for these children.  I had heard this rhetoric before, however now it was being twisted in a direction that I don’t believe it was intended.

I whole-heartedly believe in the importance of reading, however I have to question the cost.  The meeting started by analyzing national norms compared to New York State norms, which we were told are one grade level above the national norms based on the computer assessment we were using.  For example, a student reading on a 3.0 level at the beginning of third grade is considered one grade level behind.  In order to pass the third grade NY state test students needs to be on a 4.0 reading level in order to be on track.  We found very few students reading one grade level ahead which projected the success rate on the test.  In fact, the majority are projected to fail.

What pains me is the insanity of it all. I get that politicians don’t understand childhood development, but some teachers that I work with seem to have accepted this insanity as reality.  Could it be that adults that are responsible for educating and nurturing young minds have bought into the idea that all children must be reading at a specific level in a specific grade?  In reality the bar is set for children that are on a fast track and today there is an urgency to move kids along to close a predetermined gap.  Progressing one grade level a year is considered unacceptable by these standards for at risk students.

I felt the need to defend the arts, although I was a solitary voice during this meeting.  I knew instinctively what the arts means for many of these students.  I didn’t have research at my fingertips, but I knew the importance of the arts for students that need an escape from subjects that they struggle with.  The brain is a complex organ and there is more to human development than the area that controls reading.  The arts fulfill people’s souls.  Eliminating the arts for children is not the magic pill that they are looking for to raise reading proficiency.

It’s been a discouraging week.  There are terrorists throughout the world looking to harm innocent people and then there are well meaning professionals in our schools that believe eliminating the arts is going to close a gap.  Part of society is willing to ignore the ramifications caused by poverty and believe solutions can be found by destroying our humanity.


A Force That Can’t Be Bought

In the fall of 1775, enlisted Marines beat drums decorated with a rattlesnake sporting the motto, “Don’t Tread on Me.” These Marines voluntarily joined the continental army to fight oppression from the British government. The rattlesnake was a sublime symbol because it, “never begins an attack, nor, when once engaged, ever surrenders: She is therefore an emblem of magnanimity and true courage.”

Today public education in New York is being oppressed by our own state government. Innocent children are the victims of educational policies based on politically motivated attacks. In addition, our democracy is being compromised by politicians who owe allegiance to special interests.  In defense of our children and their schools, parents and teachers have joined together to refute the educational reform movement exposing it for the fraudulent ideas that it promotes.

Educational reformers commonly utilize benevolent titles such as “No Child Left Behind” or “Students First” to mislead the public into believing the altruistic ideals conveyed by these terms. Nothing could be further from the truth. The reality behind these beguiling titles doesn’t live up to their anticipated meaning.

In an attempt to manipulate the public Governor Andrew Cuomo is promoting legislation called “Parental Choice in Education.” “Carl Korn, a spokesman for New York State United Teachers, stated that the plan would ‘siphon off taxpayer money for tax giveaways to the rich. We respect parents’ decisions to send their children to private or religious schools, but they shouldn’t ask taxpayers to subsidize those personal choices,’ Korn said.”

While the title of the legislation “Parental Choice” might sound appealing when you hear it, in reality there is little choice for public schools that are being underfunded and drained of limited resources. “It’s a public-private partnership of the worst sort — the public pays the tab, private schools and wealthy donors reap the benefits.”   This move is yet another in a long line of attacks on children, women, and public schools by New York’s leadership in order to pay back wealthy campaign donors for bankrolling political careers.

Elizabeth A. Harris and Ford Fessenden wrote in the New York Times, “As the vanguard of an anti-testing fervor that has spread across the country, New York’s opt-out movement has become a political force. Just two months ago, lawmakers from both parties, at the behest of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, increased the role of test scores in teacher evaluations and tenure decisions. Those legislators are now tripping over one another to introduce bills that guarantee the right to refuse to take tests. Some testing opponents point to Mr. Cuomo’s effort as a moment that galvanized parents to opt out.

The New York Regents are getting a lot of attention in the press as they try to sort out the mess created by Governor Cuomo and the Legislature when the new laws governing education, tied to the state budget, were rushed through without adequate deliberation. The discourse has been hopeful at times. “Board of Regents member Judith Johnson, who represents the Hudson Valley, said. “Is this just about getting rid of what we consider to be ineffective teachers or this about improving the graduation rate and the quality of life for the young children entering our public schools today?”

Regent Roger Tilles of Long Island warned that making this system appear too palatable – ‘putting lipstick on a pig’ was his analogy – could spoil chances for eventually crafting a better overall system.  I think we know that we need to change the system, but we can’t do it now, he said.”

“Members of the Board of Regents wondered aloud at their May meeting about whether the governor and Legislature have left them any opportunity to improve New York’s newest teacher evaluation system.

Over hours of discussion, several Regents urged a total overhaul or replacement of the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) system approved by the governor and Legislature as part of the 2015-16 budget.

A few members even suggested refusing to carry out the technical tasks assigned by lawmakers, citing insufficient time and authority to make meaningful improvements to the latest iteration of APPR.

Ultimately, however, the Regents gave staff a go-ahead signal to continue their technical work on the new APPR law, which is on track for a vote at the Regents’ June 15-16 meetings. Legislation requires the Education Department and the Regents to carry out a number of technical tasks, such as setting weights and scoring ranges for teacher observations and student performance measures, by the end of June.

As it stands, unless the New York Legislature is able to amend this toxic legislation the oppression of our children and the effect it will have on their future for years to come will continue. Parents and teachers will persevere against the assault. Like the courageous rattlesnake, they will remain engaged in this fight.  They fight with passion and conviction. They will never surrender.  In the next election, a presidential election in which many more voters will participate, you can bet they will be voting with a vengeance seeking change in New York. They are a force that can’t be bought.

by Mark Hegenauer

You can follow me on Twitter@chessmanmark or subscribe to this blog at

The Art of Deception

Deception – to mislead by a false appearance or statement.

Do you remember that time you were lied to? Purposely deceived for someone else’s hidden agenda. Do you remember how you felt when you were disrespected by this person? We’ve all been there.

Deception is a frequent tactic used in politics today. We want to believe that government, as Abraham Lincoln once proclaimed, is “of the people, by the people, for the people.” The truth is that special interests have skewed Lincoln’s vision. You know the old saying, “money talks.”

Bill Gates is the richest man on the planet. As such, his money gets to do a lot of talking. This is unfortunate because it allows him to make decisions that affect millions of people. When he ventures into areas outside of his expertise he ends up creating a lot of damage to the populous. Anthony Cody writes, “The latest interview with Bill Gates on CNBC has the world’s richest man discussing education with little evidence that he has learned much over the past six years.”  Gates “believes” that charter schools do a better job educating students, however research does not support his position.  Jeff Bryant rebukes this belief, “that’s not what’s happening in the great charter industry rollout transpiring across the country. Rather than a negotiation over terms, charters are being imposed on communities – either by legislative fiat or well-engineered public policy campaigns. Many charter school operators keep their practices hidden or have been found to be blatantly corrupt. And no one seems to be doing anything to ensure real accountability for these rapidly expanding school operations.” Gates has spent hundreds of millions of dollars funding the common core, a social experiment on our children. The common core is designed to fail the majority of students thus creating a crisis in education in order to funnel tax payer money away from public schools into charter schools.

Diane Ravitch wrote, “Common core standards were written in a manner that violates the nationally and international recognized process for writing standards. The process by which they were created was so fundamentally flawed that these “standards” should have no legitimacy. Setting national academic standards is not something done in stealth by a small group of people, funded by one source, and imposed by the lure of a federal grant in a time of austerity.

On the night of March 31, 2015 Governor Cuomo utilized a message of necessity, tied to funding, to deceive New Yorkers with his agenda. The message of necessityis one of the most powerful tools available to New York’s governor: the so-called message of necessity, which allows immediate votes on complex legislation that otherwise could have had days of debate. You’re supposed to use messages for emergency situations,” said Sen. Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat. “It’s a stretch that it’s an emergency to get the budget done before midnight…an on-time budget is a talking point.” Susan Lerner, director of the watchdog group Common Cause, said: “Generally speaking, we believe the messages should be used for crises.Bill Mahoney, a researcher at NYPIRG, said the governor should generally avoid issuing a message for budget bills, which are often thousands of pages long.

The Daily News writes, “Since 2000, 570 hedge fund managers have shelled out nearly $40 million in political contributions in New York State.

The single biggest beneficiary has been Andrew Cuomo, who received $4.8 million from them.

Several of the governor’s big hedge fund donors, such as Carl Icahn, of Icahn Enterprises, Julian Robertson of Tiger Management, and Daniel Loeb, of Third Point LLC, are also longtime backers of charter schools.

With the one percent spending such large amounts of money on political contributions we have become a nation no longer “of the people, by the people, for the people.” Instead we have become a nation sold to the highest bidder which is not in the interest of the majority.

Policy in New York has long been predetermined by “three men in a room” (the governor, the State Assembly speaker and the State Senate majority leader), who work in secret and without accountability to decide most vital issues.Marc Santora, New York Times
Two of these three men, Sheldon Silver and Dean Skelos, have recently fallen from grace, brought up on charges of corruption.

Dean Skelos and Adam Skelos, the defendants, made explicit and implicit representations that Dean Skelos would use his official position on behalf of the entities paying his son,” the complaint alleges.

In Silver’s case, the Manhattan Democrat is accused of pressuring an unnamed developer — which matches the description of Glenwood — of directing work regarding assessment challenges to a small law firm, which in turned kicked back about $700,000 in fees to Silver.

The Senate Republicans’ central political committees, when combined, were the top recipients of Glenwood’s campaign cash, with donations totaling $1.5 million over that period. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s campaign account came in second with $1.2 million, the analysis found.

The company has made prolific use of what’s known as the “LLC loophole,” which allows companies to avoid corporate restrictions on political donations in New York by contributing through multiple limited liability companies, which can donate more than corporations.

Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause/NY, said Glenwood’s appearance in both the Skelos and Silver case raises questions about its political contributions.

“At a minimum, it makes it too easy for cynics to believe that public policy is set on campaign contributions and not on public good,” Lerner said

“I’m not sure I would call them victims,” Mr. McKee said of the real estate industry. “It seems to me they were beneficiaries. The real estate lobby has a lot of power in Albany in both houses and on both sides of the aisle. Their power comes from their money.

Mr. Silver, who had long been viewed as sympathetic to tenants, and Mr. Skelos are both accused by prosecutors of taking actions on these issues to the benefit of their real estate benefactors.”

When Dean Skelos was arrested a power struggle ensued in the New York Senate. Two Senators, John Flannigan and John DeFrancisco, scrambled for the position of majority leader. Hours before the closed door vote deception was afoot. What New Yorkers should be outraged over is that Skelos and Governor Cuomo were able to pick his successor, although the Governor denies his involvement. “DeFrancisco disputed the Democratic governor’s contention, saying Cuomo should just come clean that he sought to play a role in the election Monday. “There’s too much secrecy in dealings. There’s too much dishonesty in dealing with each other,” DeFrancisco said about the problems with corruption in Albany. “We were just talking about the governor weighing in for Flanagan, and he denies it,” he said. “I mean I don’t care: If that’s his choice, whatever his reason, he should express what his reason is. But you try to influence things, and then not tell where you really stand. “If there was more honesty, there would be more integrity.

Let me be clear: What is at stake is the future of public schools and the democracy of our country. We can not afford to be deceived any longer by special interests that shape policy by purchasing politicians good will. Over 200,000 New York State test refusals are demanding transparency. If citizens do not remain diligent then we will witness further decline in our local schools. Think for a minute what a public school means to your family and your community. Your formative years in school helped shape the person you are today. You made connections and are forever tied to the people you went to school with. You learned, loved, cried, grew and lived in those schools. Today, as well as in the past, the public school is utilized by your community for more than just education. Sporting events, concerts, productions, scouting, voting, etc. are all held at the school in your town. It’s time to speak out against the deception being perpetrated in Albany. There’s too much at stake not to.  We cannot afford to lose the American Dream which will be substantiated by a better life for our children.  This will be acheived through public education.  Education is the vehicle that will lift their lives to a more fulfilling existence. Don’t let special interests take this away from our children for their own greed.

“The jaws of power are always open to devour, and her arm is always stretched out, if possible, to destroy the freedom of thinking, speaking, and writing.”
John Adams

The Hierarchy of Needs

In 1943 Abraham Maslow proposed that we are motivated based on a hierarchy of needs. His theory is graphically represented by a pyramid. The basic, most important survival needs are the largest subset located at the base of the pyramid. These include food, shelter and sleep. Once these basic needs are met people are motivated by a different set of needs. The next level of the pyramid includes personal safety, followed by the need to belong and establish relationships. Cognition is located near the top of the pyramid.

As educational reformers and policy makers discuss common core standards and teacher evaluations I don’t hear anyone referring to Maslow. Teachers who work in public schools confront this hierarchy of needs each and every day when directly dealing with their students. All schools have a hierarchy of needs, however different communities have different needs.

The needs of a school in an affluent suburb are distinctly different from the needs of the inner city. In my last post, Walk in my Shoes, I described some of the needs that I encountered as a first year teacher working in a poor neighborhood in the Bronx.  Policy makers who sit in their ivory towers don’t encounter these needs in person every day like teachers do. The stake holders, which show up as a statistic on a report in Albany, depend on policy makers to understand their needs .  Policy makers that are strictly focused on teacher accountability and standards must remove their blinders. Teachers cannot simply design great lessons without micro-managing a host of other challenges that they confront on a daily basis. A great lesson by design will fail if you don’t take into account the needs of the students that sit in front of you.  High standards for all are delusional at best when ignoring the needs of individual communities.  Students that come from a higher socioeconomic environment will come to school ready for cognitive challenges.  In contrast, students that don’t have their basic needs met may not be disposed to raise their cognitive achievement on a strict time line.

If we look at Maslow’s pyramid from the view point of NYSED it appears more like an iceberg. They see the tip of the iceberg, but ignore the vast portion that is submerged below the surface.

Differentiation is such a fundamental part of education. Policy that is based on a one-size-fits-all method is misconstrued. Just as that new teacher’s brilliant lesson plan is destined to fail without properly managing a host of other issues, so is the APPR process destined to fail. Turning a blind eye to the individual needs of a student or a school is just plain irresponsible.

by Mark Hegenauer

You can follow me on Twitter – @Chessmanmark or subscribe to this blog at

Walk in my Shoes

My first experience teaching children in a public school started in 1997 in the Bronx.  I taught adult education for five years prior to working with kids due to the fact that I couldn’t obtain a position in a public school without any actual experience, and lacking a personal connection willing to take a chance on me.  The two certifications that I held were just pieces of paper that didn’t hold enough clout to secure a job offer working in my areas of certification.

Working in the Bronx was a real eye opener for me.  It was the kind of experience that I wish policy makers or “reformers” could go through for themselves.  If only they could walk in my shoes for a day and see the reality of what teachers experience.  As a new teacher I had grand ideas for the lessons I created that would inspire students and help educate them in ways that would have a profound effect on their future.  In reality, I was the one that got an education.

I’ll never forget the day after Halloween my first year.  I was reminiscing over my memories as a child relishing this kid-friendly holiday.  I was looking forward to seeing through the eyes of the children as they described the costumes and treats that they collected staying out late on this special occasion.  My first stop of the day was in a second grade class.  Perfect I thought.  Halloween is especially magical to a child of seven or eight years of age.  You can imagine my shock when the stories emerged.  One little boy explained that as he roamed the streets with his friends the previous night someone started insulting them.  They must have experienced this before and in anticipation of just such a conflict the child told me how he had slipped a knife into his pocket before leaving his apartment.  He told me how he displayed his knife to the accoster and then proceeded to chase the insulting hoodlum down an alley.  Unfortunately, further down this alley were some associates of the perpetrator who whipped out a handgun.  If I had caught my reflection at that moment I’m sure that my face was losing its luster.  My mind was spinning and I was questioning my rationale for accepting a position in this neighborhood.  I had grown up in the suburbs and had experienced my fair share of insults, however the worst weapon ever drawn upon me in my life as a child on Halloween was an egg, a rotten tomato, or a can of shaving cream.  I remember running away back then with my heart pounding,  but I just couldn’t wrap my brain around the fact that these second graders were living this kind of reality in the Bronx.

My second class that year was a special ed class.  It was near impossible to teach in the chaos of that room full off children with IEPs so I attempted to bring my group of students to the end of a hallway where there was a bench.  In my mind the bench would offer a comfortable space for these students to place their bottoms on.  In their minds they saw the planks and decided that these boards would make a terrific platform from which they could vault their bodies off of.  One particular day after trying my best to guide them in a reading lesson I promptly returned them to the classroom.  I was exhausted from trying to corral these energetic leaping students through a lesson, but my circumstances were a drop in the bucket next to what was going on inside the classroom.  An argument was escalating between a voluminous fourth grader and the petite first year teacher leading the class.  A couple seconds after I entered the classroom the student wound up and punched the teacher square in the nose sending her back a couple of feet.  Prior to teaching I worked as a bartender in order to pay for college and had experience breaking up fights with adults, however I wasn’t sure of the proper protocol for separating a fourth grader from the teacher she was trying to obliterate.

Once this “situation” was under control I proceeded to my next class.  My next assignment was supporting a fourth grade teacher.  There were thirty six students in this class.  Fortunately the teacher was in her second year having survived her first year.  I was drawn to a student in this class that they called “Big Al.”  Al had been retained so he was physically larger than his peers.  Al’s dilemma was that he couldn’t read.  I tried lots of different techniques with Al ultimately discovering pattern books that he could read independently once he grasped the pattern.  The first book I saw him read by himself was Five Little Ducks followed thereafter by Five Little Monkeys.  I don’t think I could adequately described the feeling of pride that this boy displayed when he was able to read an entire book on his own.

The obstacles I encountered working in the Bronx were formidable.  It wasn’t just the face-to-face encounters with the students.  Another obstacle that I had to contend with was parking.  I was lucky.  I found a man who charged me a mere $5 a day back in 1997 to valet park my car.  This amicable man’s image reminded me of Fidel Castro.  His appearance was slightly intimidating, but he was such a godsend in that neighborhood.  One night I had a dead battery after staying after school much too long to work with students.  He was able to jump start my car when I was stranded, a favor I am forever grateful for.  With parking taken care of I simply had to walk slalom style four blocks to the school trying my best to avoid the dog poop that littered the sidewalk, a challenge dragging my suitcase on wheels.  Unfortunately I wasn’t assigned a space, a high commodity, in the school for my belongings and depended on my suitcase to shuffle resources from class to class.  In that neighborhood in the Bronx many of the residents kept a pit bull for protection or a Chihuahua for its size, however I never witnessed anyone picking up the waste.

I made a dear friend at this school who refused to pay the $5 a day for parking so he would arrive extra early in the morning to park on the street for free.  Well, it seemed to be free anyway.  One day I noticed that he was upset so I asked him what was bothering him.  He explained that he discovered that his car was stolen when he went out for lunch.  He told me that he had a club on the steering wheel but ultimately it didn’t protect his car from the thieves.  He borrowed his son’s car the following week and this time he placed two clubs on the car determined to park on the street for free.  Even two clubs weren’t enough to protect his son’s car.  It was stolen as well.

On top of all this we had special codes that came over the PA to warn us of “situations” that occurred within the building.  This was before “lock out” or “lock down” procedures became a part of our reality post 911.  I remember hearing the code go out on more than one occasion that warned us that someone was carrying a gun inside the school.  There was a security guard at the door, but we didn’t have metal detectors.  On two of these occasions it turned out to be a child who brought a handgun to school.  Shocking, at least to me, more so because this was a K-4 school.

After all this time I still remember a boy named Justin.  Justin was a bright boy who was doing well in school for the first half of the year.  Then one day his abilities started to decline.  The teacher scheduled a parent-teacher conference and we found out that Justin’s father had been arrested and incarcerated.  Justin became very angry over this turn of events and was never the same for the rest of the school year

My first year teaching was quite a while ago, but I will never forget these memories.  I was the one that received an “education” because I was thrown into the deep end of the pool without a floatation device.  When I interviewed for positions in the suburbs later I was much more marketable.  I was offered three positions the year I left.  I had experiences and stories to tell.  I learned how to take a running record.  I learned about guided reading, shared reading and how to evaluate writing using a rubric.  When I chose the school that I would ultimately stay in for the majority of my career the decision was made based on this experience in the Bronx.  You see, I was offered a position in the town I grew up in, but ultimately I chose a poor neighborhood in Southern Westchester.  I wanted to make a difference.

I share these memories with you today as I contemplate my future in education.  What is to become of public education?  I wear my first year’s experience on my sleeve today like a badge of honor.  It nearly killed me, but I survived.  I was stressed out beyond my limits that year and it cost me dearly in my personal relationships.  I wasn’t much fun to be around after work.  I was irritated most nights.  Today I wonder if I would have survived that first year in today’s climate of “accountability” and the hostility that is garnered toward teachers.  I survived and I like to think I made a difference, then and all the years since.  I made a decision seventeen years ago to teach in a poor neighborhood.  Now that my effectiveness as a teacher will be based on developmentally inappropriate test scores and a drive by evaluation I seriously worry about the future.  This future that I worry about is not isolated to my own circumstances.  I worry about the young (and older) professionals that are completing their requirements to become a new teacher with ridiculously unfair systems waiting to punish them and the lack of support that is needed for such an important position in our society.  A new teacher that has grand ideas for inspiring their students is about to get pummeled by society.