Thursday, April 18, 2013

To Commissioner King


April 18, 2013

Dear Commissioner King,

     I have just completed administering day 3 of New York State standardized Tests for third grade, in accordance with the policies and procedures as set forth by the New York State Department of Education, facilitated by devoted administrators and other staff working diligently to ensure proper distribution, collection, and security of all testing materials. Your message regarding adherence to testing protocols has been delivered clearly, and you now have a state full of teachers who feel that their careers are at stake should they not preserve the Pearson/NY procedures, controls and reputation.

     For three days, I have kept a classroom of 3rd grade students virtually silent and in their seats for 70 minutes (plus the few minutes it took to distribute and collect materials in a way that would maintain the "security" of the tests). Three days in a row. A building of children yearning to be active, held under the thumb of tests and testing procedures.

     Mr. King, the testing policies you promote are misguided in focus and confusing in how you have attempted to justify them. More discussion with all involved, and clarity of purpose moving forward is needed if you expect success. I can tell you as an educator with over a decade of experience in the classroom, all of those years in public schools serving the “main street” (not Wall Street) population, your policies are not  serving students or their schools well. Not just that: they are doing more harm than good. Your experiences have not put you in proximity with, and your policies are not informed by the real developmental needs more and more students come to real public schools school with.  You just don't know who the real public is, and what their children need from their schools.

     Let’s pretend for a moment that “pineapplegate” never happened. Despite demands for districts and their teachers to submit to tests that didn't exist, and then you having to shrug off criticism of the poor quality that was rushed out to forward the test machine (the tests are a "work in progress"); despite the fact that true professionals were victimized, I'll set all that aside for a moment. But giving you a "pass" on that one doesn't erase:

  • That early in your tenure as Ed Commissioner (May, 2011) and under the urging of future presidential hopeful Andrew Cuomo you pressured public schools into test-based teacher evaluations-even though core-aligned assessments and curriculum were not in place.
  • That you were conspicuously absent in 2012 conversations (with Buffalo schools, for one) regarding how chronically absent students can impact teacher evaluations. According to you: While I accept that attendance is not solely the responsibility of educators, I reject the notion that educators do not contribute to student attendance. (explain, please, with objective measurable data/examples) 
  • That you have seemed to work in concert with the current governor to de-fund and   overburden public schools.
  • That you have allowed Rupert Murdoch's quest for power and profit intrude in the process whatsoever. Once you are involved in phone hacking into private text messages, once you go on the record in favor of publicizing nude photos of the royal family, once you openly drool over the hundred's of billions to gain in the education business,,,I think you should be barred. But guess who's in our school guts like a tapeworm? Guess what name was inside my day 3 test book?

     The school and teacher-hunt agenda appears clear, and our unions have played deal-makers and triage. Teacher outrage, district frustration...all have been rebuffed.

     But the disgust of parents with what is being done to their children and their schools has suddenly brought the state's defense and PR machine to life. The line is no longer how vital ferreting out bad schools and bad teachers is-it's how vital and important submitting to these tests is for the educational program of  children.

     Is that what I say on "day three" when I have three students cry, two lay their heads down absolutely exhausted, and one who draws an absolute blank? Well, no...that response is not allowable according to the scripted proctoring protocol.

     Is that what I tell my own elementary age "level 4" daughter who has read at the high school level since third grade, but experiences anxiety at such disruptions and abnormal approaches to "learning"?

Is that what you tell YOUR children?

Oh, wait...YOUR kids don't do this in their school, do they?

     Mr. King, I can tell you as a father of three gifted, brilliant and beautiful young girls who are blessed with a loving home and involved parents that I am offended by your assumptions and assertions regarding what my children or their public school peers really need. You have not spent enough time in the classroom or widened your frame of reference to truly understand what most of these children need. The testing juggernaut that you describe as some kind of education salvation is devastating, and ignores more wide-ranging, immediate and demanding unwritten mandates our public schools are silently given.

If you wish to challenge my views constructively, I welcome that challenge. I even invite you to my classroom, or my home. But if I have to see spent, crying third graders, or see that look in my daughter's eyes again, you will have some 'splainin to do.

Dan McConnell

P.S.  A message from my wife: "Your tests suck, I have a better way to do it, I could save you a ton of money."

I'm telling you now Mr. King-she could do it.

85 comments:

  1. Again I say the children's welfare is last on the list of what Commissioner King and his cohorts are interested in. The children's childhood is being robbed from them. Thank you for a beautiful written letter.

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    1. Its hard for me to really believe he doesn't care, but boy I sure wonder. I think what we're really seeing is a group of people whose connections and money has worked so well for them, that they are insulated from reality.

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  2. My third and fourth grade students are extremely motivated and hard-working. While taking the tests, one broke down and started crying mid-test, another whimpered for 105 straight minutes while he attempted to do his absolute best, and a third became so anxious, he developed a nosebleed one hour into the exam. Most used every minute of the 105 minutes (extended time provided as per IEPs) they were given (plus time for distribution and instructions), on each of three straight days. I am ashamed to have subjected them to this traumatic experience, when I could have been providing them with a true quality education instead.

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  3. Thank you for a clear erudite letter that sadly the recipient will never read.
    I took early retirement because I just could not deal with all this false learning and testing. They leave no room for enjoyment of learning.
    NYS used to have the best schools until these so called know it alls took over.
    I hope you forward that letter to Cuomo too.
    Namaste

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    1. On its way! Thanks for the compliment, and thank your for your years of service in the trenches.

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  4. I agree with Dan - and his wife too.

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  5. To Mr. King,
    My name is Mrs. Jennifer McConnell. I was referred to in Dan McConnell's letter to you. I am able to attest that the light and the life has been sucked out of my very bright 11 year old. These tests that will in part rate her teacher, in no way demonstrate the depth of knowledge her teacher has imparted on her this year. The stressfulness of taking such long and unnecessary tests, where she is not even able to get up and stretch her legs, might certainly prevent her from receiving the coveted 4. And thus her teacher, who by the way has been excellent for her, might not be declared as an effective teacher due to lower student scores, which incidentally might very well be out of her control. It is documented that a teacher has about 15% of influence over a student and that factors outside school account for 85% of influence. The absolute best teacher in the world can not prevent some students inability to score well on these ridiculous tests.
    I am definitely NOT against all tests. You need tests to measure students progress, but not these tests. And not for children so young and certainly not 3 days of ELA and another 3 days of math. This is all out of control.
    I definitely have a plan for rating teachers as effective (or not) that all but eliminates such high stakes testing for such young children. Why do you not go directly into the classroom and actually observe a teacher teach a lesson? Hmmm... novel idea. Give me a call, I'd be happy to outline how such a reasonable approach could work. Happy kids and effective teachers, together we could make it happen!
    Sincerely,
    Jennifer McConnell

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    1. That is my most incredible wife.

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    2. We are also observed, on top of all of the testing, and evaluated on our teaching with a rubric created by an educational "expert" who has packaged and marketed this rubric, along with an online website which schools have to purchase to comply with the state's mandates. In my district, it's a 63 page rubric by Marzano which is so picky and detailed that my supervisor couldn't possibly see all of the details in a single lesson. Which means no teacher will score the "coveted 4" on it.

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    3. Correct. The idea is that you then have to follow up with a conversation and/or documents that demonstrate (the "binder full of evidence") how you fill in all the missing gaps in your point-generating rubric. But how much can you plan and instruct effectively if you are scrabbling to document and describe the thousand in-the-moment events,decisions and strategies that good teachers make every day. These are why King, Rhee, Cuomo, Gates, Coleman, Klein, Perry...did not/would not last long. Easier for them to destroy something they can't hack/understand and sell the pieces.

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    4. marzano...the most hated name in Florida, next to Jeb Bush, and FCAT.

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  6. Susan-this will be sent to Mr. Cuomo.

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  7. Dan...You have spoken the words of thousands of frustrated educators throughout New York State. Thank you so much. I hope to meet you in Albany on June 8th.

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    1. I'm going to see if I can make that happen. I sure don't want it to be purely a union "stroke-fest" though, because more activism up front might have put us less downhill to begin with.

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  8. My 7th grade students read well below grade level. Spending 3 days - 4.5 hours testing them at skills they do not have does nothing but demean them and cause them to further shut down! I don't see what we are doing to level the playing field so my students with low socio-economic status will be "college and career ready." So, what then is the point of all this testing???

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  9. Excellent letter. Even if Commissioner King reads it, he won't change his mind. He does not want to be informed. He has his own agenda and it does not include what is best for students...evidence the bullying approach to parents and children who have decided to refuse the test. Mr. and Mrs. McConnell, you should refuse to have your daughter take the Math tests next week. Not until parents rise up against these tests will someone maybe listen.

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  10. As a fellow third grade teacher, I want to THANK YOU for expressing so eloquently what we all feel. I have been a teacher for 24 years, and have given state tests for all of those years (before the NYS ELA in fourth and eighth grades began, we used to give reading and math PEP tests to kids...one day each...a breeze!) But, testing has NEVER felt like this. It is so disheartening, and makes me so angry; I am going to keep a copy of your letter at school to help me more clearly express my concerns.

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  11. Thank you. From one third grade teacher to another. I say "Thank YOU"

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    1. And i thank YOU for being in the classroom, taking the time to read and respond. It is nice to know you're not alone, nice to know that the fear is being replaced by some well deserved outrage.

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  12. As a parent I thank God that my children have graduated and moved on to universities - even without this terrible testing.
    As a teacher I am absolutely horrified that YOU were allowed into my classroom and school and YOU were allowed to ruin the trusting relationships I have spent an entire school year creating and nurturing. YOU, your friends in politics, and your friends at Pearson have bankrupted the culture of our public schools and made our teachers look bad for the evil profit. And I would guess you don't even take responsibility for your part in this. I am certain that you will be defending this testing program by tomorrow.

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  13. I am a seventh grade ELA teacher and I am appalled at the lack of concern for student welfare in this mockery of testing for student growth. A few of my highest achieving students did not have enough time to finish the test, including a few students who didn't have enough time to write their essays. One student cried after the test because she worked so hard on perfecting her ability to write an essay and only had time to write an introductory paragraph. Several students admitted that by Day 3 they were just to tired to care anymore and so they just skimmed the passages. I know how taxing this was for my students and can't imagine the challenge this presented for third graders. I do, on the other hand, believe in higher standards and some of what is included in the common core learning standards. The problem I have is with the emphasis on testing, as well as the lack of training provided for educators. Mostly I am angry when schools are losing teachers and resources and yet have enough money to pay private companies, such as Pearson, an exorbitant amount of money.I am confident that common sense will prevail and these tests one day will come to an end, but not without casualties! Instead of racing to the top, we need to slow down and maybe take some advice from Finland!

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    1. Agree 100% with high standards and growth. Agree 110% with a more sensible approach, where the focus is society, equity, support and respect. Current U.S. style reform is a misdirection away from the forces impacting most families and young learners, dishonesty about the intentions of power players in the reform movement. Given the respect, support and autonomy educators in Finland have-we could be churning out citizens capable of true critical (not standardized) thinking.

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  14. First, told by my administrator that I was not allowed to look at the test or speak about the test I was proctoring to my own students???? Nazi Germany??? Second, when you realized that teachers were not committed to protecting the interests of the poor test developers that write these ridiculously useless tests, you sent out a memo saying that the printing of the same story and questions on the third, fourth, and fifth grade tests was not an mistake, but done on purpose. You used the comment that it was a "typical" testing ploy. Well, I have been giving that test for 13 years, and never saw that before. In what state are you speaking about? Who gives the same story and questions to 8 and 12 year olds??? What is the point, it makes no sense. Do you want to know about the students in public school and their abilities, ask the teachers. School districts would save millions of dollars. Maybe instead of giving the money to Pearson and their textbooks, we can give it to teachers who want to teach.

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    1. The same passage was also on the sixth and seventh grade test!

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  15. Dan,
    Nicely done! You bring up so many valid points and although I could comment on so many of them, the one thing that irritates me most (right now), is the fact that Dr. King is going to help us fix our public schools with these tests and evaluations and yet his children do NOT attend public schools and he spent very little time in one. How can you fix a supposed problem if you arent on the inside? How can you get to the root cause of a supposed problem if you arent on the inside? I am not sure but I can tell you this, if my medical doctor tried to diagnose me and remedy just by looking at me from the outside, then that is a doctor I would NEVER visit again! Get it straight Dr. King - stop preaching the twisted version of the facts! And, as a dad of a third grader in a NYC Public School, and principal of a NY public elementary school, stop torturing our kids! Every educator should have one common goal... doing what is BEST FOR CHILDREN... not for politicians or Pearson!

    Sincerely,
    Tony Sinanis
    Principal
    Cantiague Elementary School

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    1. Thank you, Mr. Sinanis, for your kind words and your service. I think that there are many, many administrators like you out there, just waiting to be able to do the right thing.

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  16. That was awesome! Thank you!

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  17. these tests were meant to fail these children so Commissioner King can live by his name...KING...never..this is all part of his rich and famous plan to rule the world with his group of corupt politicians...his children will be sooo proud of him...wow Daddy,youre the best,you cheated all those kids out of a real life,just for us,so we can have more money...thank you daddy,for being so greedy, now the gates of hell have our name KING on them.

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    1. Don't know if he has "rule the world" potential, because execution of his plan has been a bit sloppy and easy to pick apart. The fact that he has been given the power is what has allowed it to be pushed through, and it's THAT (the rise to power in ed policy and discussion of those without the experience and classroom "chops", and who shelter their children in schools that won't suffer)that needs reform. Likely he has Governor aspirations-maybe...or is paving the way to CEO and arm of the Pearson/Gates machine.

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  18. Wow, and thank you!
    Suzanne Schiavoni Grade 4 teacher
    South Glens Falls School District

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    1. You are welcome. Thank you for teaching and paying attention.

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  19. I am a third grade teacher also, and my experience of giving the test was the same as yours, Mr. McConnell. Now we have the coming week to get through- giving 3 more days of tests to already exhausted 8 year olds. My students asked me what would happen to them if they failed. Would the scores be on their report cards? No. Would they have to stay in 3rd grade? No. Would they have to go to summer school? No. Would they get extra help next year? Some will, but our school has had to cut so many positions, that not all the students will get the help they need. So who really gets the consequences? Only the teachers. Why would anyone put children through these tests just to be able to punish teachers?

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    1. My students asked a lot of those questions too. I feel like I lied when I told them it was just to get an idea of what we need to teach next...and some other non-threatening stuff. Why even give them anything more to worry about? For a good number in my school, coming to school is an escape from discord and discomfort. Does providing security and encouraging kids to be in school to begin with show up in the SED number crunch? Doubt it.

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  20. On behalf of the thousands of children with now broken spirits and distrust in the educational system, I thank you, Dan! And on behalf of the thousands of teachers (myself included), who witnessed the torture you detail in your letter, thank you for keeping it real!

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    1. It makes me sad to think of that many more children subjected to this craziness. I wonder if Governor Cuomo has aspirations for his own political future and how he would describe this on his resume'.

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  21. As a teacher of 15 years, and as a new student to statistics, a general review of Bayes' theorem could bring us to a simple question: if educators are being evaluated by these (seemingly and historically) flawed tests, who is responsible for evaluating the tests themselves?

    Tests like these may detect things that don't exist and may miss things that do exist. When kids are rushed for time and are left with no choice but to bubble in blanks at random, just how many might drop to a "basic" or "below basic" status? How many of those kids could be denied the chance for placement in an advanced class from a test that has been assumed to be flawless? At the other end, what of those kids who squeezed their way into proficient status with last minute guessing, thereby losing remedial services?

    This letter brings up many questions. Will the Commissioner ever admit that these tests are far from perfect? Or will he stand by Pearson?

    How many great, inspiring, nurturing, thoughtful, creative, and dedicated professionals do we stand to lose as a result of this testing lunacy? So much for "evidence-based" thinking, Mr. King.

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    1. Understanding statistics gives you a more detailed understanding than most would have about what the results of these "standardized" tests can really tell us, and how they are being misused. Even the "value-added" model where many pieces of data are aggregated to more or less scatter plot kids of similar status/background/starting point/historical end point (although longitudinal data would be weak without consistently used tools over a long period of time)...basically, be as fancy as you want with how you try and turn people and places into numbers, you cant really use it as the final call on an actual human being or the intricacies of real education from a gifted, intuitive human instructor and a learner in motion. This is one of the most vital part of "the commons"...a resource there to sustain society as a whole, and the tragedy unfolds again as the greedy set their sights on it for their own gain.

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  22. This letter is an excellent summary of the testing hell my third graders went through. At our school we were not allowed to administer the test to our own students which was very stressful as well. Do you know if that was a state regulation because many colleagues in neighboring districts said they did not follow this procedure.

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    1. Many schools are left to figure things in the reform process out on their own...awaiting approval and funds from "on high" and hoping what they can patch together is good enough.

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  23. I'm writing as a parent. Can parents see a sample of these tests to which their children are being subjected? What would happen if all teachers in the district joined together and just REFUSED to give the test? Parents are discouraged from keeping their children home (refusing to take the test) but if principals and teachers think these tests are wrong, stand up and say NO! We try to teach our kids, 'Just Say No!' It would probably be a movement that catches on quickly. AND why are autistic and learning disabled children subjected to these tests. Everything about this is wrong, wrong, wrong.

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    1. You ask some great questions. I think Commissioner King and Governor Cuomo are in excellent positions to explain what the official response would be to communities supporting their local schools and experienced educators in refusing to treat children this way. They've been able to hide behind harmful policies and a public school smear-campaign for long enough.

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    2. These are great questions that I wish more parents were asking! Parents can see the same few sample questions that teachers could see at http://www.engageny.org/resource/new-york-state-common-core-sample-questions .

      In our district, we have been told that we could basically loose our jobs if we do not administer these tests, but we cannot force a student to take them. If 5% of students do opt out, however, our school could lose funding (although no one seems to know how much).

      It's true that it's completely inappropriate for struggling learners to take these assessments, with extra time allotted for students with learning disabilities to read text they already don't understand. What is extra wrong is that these tests are written at reading levels far above grade level. They are inappropriate even for students who are high achievers. If you refer to the test guides at http://www.engageny.org/resource/test-guides-for-english-language-arts-and-mathematics , you will see that sixth grade students will read passages that range from Lexile 925-1185, but the Lexile company says that the reading levels at this age should be 860-1010. The company states that the 1185 level goes up to the 12th grade reading level! Why are we giving sixth graders twelfth grade passages on high-stakes tests? And better yet, the Lexile website states that they are changing their reading levels to reflect the new Common Core expectations (http://www.lexile.com/using-lexile/lexile-measures-and-the-ccssi/text-complexity-grade-bands-and-lexile-ranges/). They state that this will ensure that students are college and career ready. It’s like having heart surgery from someone who simply read and understood a cardiology text book. It takes more than a reading level to prepare our students for college and careers!

      What upsets me more on top of all of this is that our students are suffering beyond testing days. As general education teachers, and as unique individuals, some of us are a better fit for students with special needs or with accelerated students who work far above grade level. Now, because test scores impact our ratings as effective teachers, we can no longer work with students that we are the best fit for. I thoroughly enjoy working with struggling learners and take pride in their achievements, no matter how “small”. I have been told that I can no longer work with this population for two consecutive years because their low scores on state tests will make me look like an ineffective teacher and jeopardize my job. This breaks my heart! I have known students who grow 2.5 grade levels in math in one school year, but still work below grade level. They should be praised for their achievements, not forced to feel like failures on these tests. Our students don’t need more opportunities to feel inadequate!

      Every teacher I know feels alone in this battle because, even though we understand these problems and our families hear enough from us to understand these problems, no one “important” seems to understand or even care. Thank you so much, Dan, for providing us with a voice and an opportunity to communicate!

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    4. Great points. Notice that you say "every teacher I know" feels alone in this battle. You, and they, are not alone. The insanity of unreal demands from elected leaders who are not meeting their own responsibilities; the less than minimally qualified people given so much pay, say and respect; their ignorance of or unwillingness to do the right thing for the most needy children...
      These things are becoming apparent to those outside the "boots on the ground". Teachers are possible targets if they don't obediently accept the roles of suspects that must data-prove their way to mere acceptance, and poor assessment (testing) practice is the stick being swung. But kids are being hit by this stick too. In the unnatural test environment, the developmentally inappropriate material,the way young kids are expected to perform, and the time being used to "train" kids because if you make the reputation of a school and the jobs of teachers dependent on little kids sitting still for more than an hour and accurately fill in little bubbles in response to reading passages that may be 2 or more reading levels above them...
      Anyways, parents are starting to get it. I'm one of them, and I'm also a teacher. I know the kids in my room that need a chance to show what they can do with something a bit more advanced and intricate. I know who is around the target level, and I know the others. The ones below grade level; the boy who goes from needing twenty hugs a day in class to threatening to stab another student and her family (and her cat)on the bus ride home; the girl whose single father ships her off if she doesn't get along with his temporary live-in girlfriend...
      As a parent and a teacher I see the dishonesty and arrogance of current "reform" first hand. It isn't what my own kids need, and it isn't what many of these other kids need.

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  24. I'm a trustee of a school board that was among the first in the state to take an official position against high stakes testing. Our legislative action committee crafted a resolution that has become a model for other districts. I'm also the parent of a 4th grader who, until this week, loved learning and was eager to get to school each day. The ELA testing changed all of that in a single day. By day two of the testing, she was having anxiety attacks, panic over her performance, and worry for her teacher's job and her own future placement. These programs are designed for one thing: to scapegoat educators, put money in the pockets of edu-corporations like Pearson at the expense of our students, and ultimately to turn public education into a private, for-profit enterprise. Education "reform," high stakes testing and the Common Core are the biggest scams foisted on this country in modern history. Education should be about educating the whole student, teaching scientific reasoning and using rational thought to arrive at informed decision making. Our schools should not be thought of as factories to crank out employable automatons for the rat race. We need to reverse direction.

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    1. AGREE 100%. Thank you for sharing and working to avoid joining the dark side.

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  25. I am a trustee of a school board that was among the first in the state to take a position against high stakes testing. Our legislative action committee crafted a resolution that has become a model for other districts. I'm also the parent of a 4th grader who, until this week, was a kid who loved learning and was eager to get to school each day. The ELA tests changed that in a single day. On day one of the tests, she cried because she couldn't finish on time. By day two, she was having anxiety attacks and worry about her teacher's job and her own future placement. Education should be about educating the whole student, creating well-rounded minds with the ability to use reason and rational thought for informed decision-making, not creating employment-ready automatons for the rat race. Education "reform," standardized testing and the Common Core are the biggest scams foisted on this country in modern history. The agenda is clear: to scapegoat educators, and to defund and turn public education into a private, for-profit enterprise to benefit edu-corporations like Pearson. This course must be reversed, the future of our children (as well as our state and our nation) depends on it. Well said, and thank you for writing this.

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  26. Thank you for your input. I am a parent who has a child struggling with these tests. I have not allowed him to "stress" out about these, and he has not been in school for them. After the response I have gotten from our school and am really thinking if homeschooling is the answer. Because I am beginning to question school policies and some of the care & education that my children are receiving. Thank you, I look forward to reading the rest of your blog.

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    1. You are welcome, and good luck. As a parent I tell my kids that these tests mean nothing and they are there because someone is selling and schools are forced to buy. I might be making some important decisions about who is allowed to tell me what my kids need.

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  27. Thank you so much for writing such a well written letter with many of our concerns presented! I teach fourth grade and my students had the same problem. These tests do NOT evaluate any of our true teaching ability. For example I have a student who has gone from a 2.0 reading level to 3.5 - will these tests show that growth? NO, because she is below level still. What it will do is make her feel a failure when she gets a 1 since she is just developing higher level thinking which is what most of our book 1 questions were.

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    1. There are so many things that REAL teachers in REAL schools have to do that the smugness of the "no excuses" crowd (that shelter themselves and their own) can't erase it all. They would like to profit from the test-and-destroy plan, so they need to be reminded.

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  28. I applaud the thoughts you have voiced in your your well-crafted letter. Where did you learn to write like that if you were never subjected to rigorous testing and Common Core as a student? How did we all manage without Peason telling us how, when, why and where to teach? I have been a teacher for 20 years and never, and I mean never, have I worked so hard to force fed students so much information. What ever happened to deeper understanding and mastery? There is little joy left in my class and when I "sneak in" activities meant to excite, challenge and enrich their days, I feel like a criminal stealing time from precious test prep (yup, I wrote those words). Science has been put on the back burner along with social studies, in order to clear the schedule for 90 minutes of ELA, 45 minutes of word study and 60 minutes of math each day.
    I have students so befuddled in math (I teach 5th grade) that they are grasping at poorly learned procedures and skills and randomly applying them to new topics that they have not had ample time to learn how to solve. Heck, they haven't had time to learn how to THINK. I have some 10 years olds so frustrated at this point that any answer they write is good enough for them. And, what to tell the student that believes my job is hanging in the balance of how he performs for me? One day, I'm telling the children to do their best and the next I'm trying to explain that all this time and effort counts for nothing on their report cards....
    My own 13 year old, who carries a 97+ average each quarter, came home crying when she could not finish her test. How do I console a young girl who is self-motivated and driven that "It's okay, don't worry about it" when she knows that those missed questions may be the difference between her much coveted 4 and a 3?
    I have far more questions and no answers that satisfy me as a teacher and a parent. I fear that before the mighty pendulum swings the other way we will have lost far too many bright lights in this educational petrie dish.

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    1. A well read single mother, a smart-alec father who stayed involved, great extended family and cousins, lots of play in the country and in town, bb guns and .22's, snowball fights at recess, spankings when I needed them, jack wax in the winter and switchel
      in the summer, whacking the hornets nest and crab-apple golf...
      I know things Mr. King never will, and I only know half of what my father knows, less than what my grandfather's knew-but I learned what I could whenever I could. I had shelves full of books from the Hardy Boys to Encyclopedia brown to naughty stuff I snagged off my mom's shelf when I could and late night scary movies after hitting the bars and playing pool with Dad on the weekends with him. The "common core" was real life, responsibilities, and rewards for fulfilling them. Policy makers have much to do with how much of that is lost to children these days. Imagine if real teachers could get kids out and really teach, and wannabe politicians just stayed out of it and took care of the country.

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  29. If we could record the heart-wrenching sight of watching students with special needs, along with those without, struggling through hours of testing in math and ELA for two weeks straight, I have no doubt when publicized on the evening news, there would be outrage by all. It is so difficult as teachers to covey what these tests do to our students as well as the whole educational community. Parents and adults in general who do not work in schools, and who themselves may not have had a positive school experience, seem to have great difficulty understanding why these assessments are so very wrong. I can't say that I blame them. Teachers have been portrayed for so long it seems as overpaid complainers who went into the profession simply for summers off. I blame that on Commissioner King as well. The fact that these tests are being used to rate teacher performance shows that he has such little regard for what teachers face on a day to day basis. If I could meet this man face to face, I would tell him SHAME ON YOU MR. KING!! Shame on you and what you are doing to the children of this state!

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    1. One thing I have to say: I've never loved this method of testing, but good assessment that informs practice is necessary. My real frustration is that people who know the least about real kids and real schools are being given the power to inject even more about what is wrong (while protecting their own).

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  30. All I can say is.......thank God for Xanax! A long week ahead of us still. Wish I could go back to teaching, not testing. Any thoughts on Modules?????

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    1. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around "modules". Aren't they just sequenced core-aligned units? I feel like for-profit companies have taken what we were already doing, re-packaged and renamed it, and are selling it back like it's some amazing stuff that us poor inadequate teachers needed done for us.

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    2. My district is adopting the Modules in the fall. We are required to teach from these "scripted" binders. Does not sound like any freedom for teachers at all. And then when students still do not perform well......I can't be my fault right????? Pretty soon people won't even need a teaching degree and Masters. Sad time to be a teacher. And to think I encouraged my 23 year old to go into education. Feeling bad about that!

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    3. Absolutely agree with your response Dan. It does seem to be nothing more than a unit aligned to the Core. What a novel idea!

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  31. Thank you for such an amazing letter Dan! You nailed it all the way. I have been a special education teacher for over 30 years, and this disaster has been building for at least the last 10. I told an administraitor(yes, I spelled that the way I wanted to) we were like lemmings going over the cliff way back then. There are so many lemmings piled up now the remaining lemmings can't even get hurt as they step off the edge. That same administraitor started a meeting last year with these words: "You're going to have to start doing more than just showing up at your jobs." and immediately followed with the news that none of us would be evaluated as highly effective teachers with the new APPR. And, if I hear one more time "It is what it is", I may not make it to retirement.
    In addition to these meaningless state tests, students also must take pre and post assessments in EVERY subject, including band, orchestra, etc. The average 8th grader will have taken 24 assessments, plus endured 8 days of state tests this year. NONE of these assessments impacts the students other than to assign the lowest scorers to AIS. The students all know that failure is not an option because you can't fail, no matter how hard you try, until you fail your first Regents in high school. This IS the reality.
    It is truly pathetic what our leaders have done to the state of education, and I agree with your statement that "more activism up front might have put us less downhill to begin with". When NYSUT signed off on the APPR even though the state had not revealed its full hand I knew that we were in big trouble. Would you pay your general contractor 100% of the cost of building your new house with only 75% of the blueprint completed?
    The only artifact I'd like to archive is the entire NYSED crew under the heading "travesty".
    Thank you to all the wonderful, dedicated educators who work so hard for "their kids" every day, especially to my colleagues who stick together through it all and our building adminstrators who support us and our kids! I am priveleged to work with truly awesome people!

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    1. I think that type of admin message is being delivered more and more. "Well, we know that's the reality...but since we can't do anything about it...what are YOUR solutions (in other words, what more do you need to do)? Along with the "doing more than just showing up", Our leaders and NYSED have been allowed to defund and over-burden public schools in order to wag the dog of reform. Those who are really responsible for creating the ingredients of success have destroyed our economy and dismantled the morals in order to drive consumption of free market mind-candy. Now they play the distract and blame game, knowing that without the deeper social fix, there will always be losers in the game and public schools to blame.

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  32. That's a great letter. Can we mention the fact that the 7th grade test had a "major" typographical error in it? I say major because it was an ELA test and the students were asked to check their spelling... yet a few pages earlier the test makers didn't even check theirs. And since I'm not allowed to comment on the test questions I'll only say that compound words often have a very different meaning than the paired words do if written separately.

    I've been teaching 12 years and am applying for "real jobs" now (according to my friends).

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    1. I think you're okay mentioning a typo. But if the jack-booted thugs come from the Pearson enforcement squad-you didn't hear it from me.

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  33. Dan,
    This is a great letter. I too teach 3rd grade and it was so disheartening to see my strugglers attempt the test. They were defeated after day 1. I do not understand how the Comissioner of Education can put his own children in private school. If the policies he endorses are not good enough for his own children, then who? I hope every parent, teacher and administrator is at the rally on the 8th. I plan on being there!
    Val

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  34. To all parents reading this...You can have your children OPT OUT! It is legal to do this. Your children do not need to be traumatized by greedy people with no common sense. Your children should be treated like children, not like robots. Children are not computers where you just fast feed data. Your children, nor you deserve to be stressed to the max when these tests mean nothing, except to maybe produce unfair and biased decisions for the teachers who care about your children. If all the parents Opt out of these tests on their child's behalf perhaps it will show that we are fed up! These are OUR children. We know them best and we do not want to see them feel like failures because of Mr. King or Gov. Cuomo. Its all about money with them!

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    1. Hi Mr. McConnell, I just wanted to tell you that your letter is beautifully written and I believe you have spoken for thousands of parents and educators. I have many family members and friends who are teachers in NYS. I am a strong opponent of standardized testing and am not shy about it. I also have three daughters in our public schools. Over the course of this year in particular, I have watched the classroom focus shift toward teaching to the test and it's frustrating and heartbreaking. I cannot believe what is happening to our education system. Bravo to you for writing this letter! I fully agree with you! Suzanne Coyle

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  35. I'm pretty sure testing will not go away. and I'm pretty sure money won't either. its teachers, parents and schools responsibility to not stress students out. the major problem is the negativity among parents and educators. our educational system is sad. I don't agree with a lot hat has happened in our state. 6 days of testing isn't the one we should be up in arms about. And testing is changing anyway....so something else for us to complain about.

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    1. Definitely there are more pressing problems than 6 days of testing. Like the reform agenda of blaming the victims for pointing out how they are being victimized, and the difference between intuitive educators most familiar with how their students grow (in a very non-scientific/standardized way when you fall below the median income then into poverty area)and the wealthy who hide protected behind their money and put their own kids in fancy well funded schools out of reach of their own policies. So policy for sale and public education destroyed is a paired issue.

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  36. It's too bad the people who are grading these couldn't agree to give every student a 4. Maybe then they'd get the message

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  37. Dan, this is very well written and the comments afterwards are good. I am glad to see such a dialogue; I hope it is being shared and shared again. I hope parents wake the heck up!!!! Parents need to OPT OUT! Teachers need to revolt as well.

    I am glad to see you are doing your part to keep things real, to keep the insanity they are calling "education reform" from happening!

    I Tweeted your post and I shared it on Facebook.

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  38. Thank you for your letter. I wonder if you are able to confirm the rumor that some of the passages on this years tests were taken directly from Pearsons curriculum materials. If your district paid for Pearsons curriculum, then your students had the opportunity to read and answer questions about these passages before the exam was administered (an advantage over those who didn't pay for Pearsons curriculum).

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    1. I have heard, but I can't confirm that this happened and that there was a response to the effect that it was intentional. Not some nefarious intent, but maybe a test MAKING strategy (as opposed to a taking)to use story X above and below its reading level and adjust the tasks attached to fit the skill requirement at the grade level. I am not opposed so much to this strategy-it offers the chance to collect interesting data on how students perform.
      What I do oppose is the obvious public campaign being waged to smear public schools and praise a "testing is teaching" approach that does not equal sound education practice. It also denigrates/disrespects the people closest to the most needy learners (including the learners and their families.
      Who is being given the power over creation and administration of assessment tools, and the definition of what evidence of learning is? They are using euphemism the way war-hawks used "cake-walk", "shock and awe", "surge"...
      For education it's ALL STUDENTS being "college and career" ready, which implies that college is affordable and careers are out their for ALL STUDENTS. It empowers the wordsmiths to shift blame to the exploited and away from the exploiters and turn the goal of public schools into the production line for standardized servants of an economy instead of a vibrant and varied strength within a society.
      The garage elevator crowd will never be sated.

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  39. Dan
    Your letter should be sent to all of the media outlets. I bet the NY Times would love it.
    Diane

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    1. I told him he should send it to the Albany newspaper. It's the only way King will even have a chance to see it...

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    2. The Times has an "us only" submission policy...but I'll give it a shot anyway.

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  40. Dan,
    This letter should be sent to all the media outlets. The NY Times would love it.

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    1. A little editing then sent just a while ago.

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  41. Dan,
    Your letter should be sent to all the media outlets. The NY Times would love it.

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  42. Thank you Mr. McConnell! As a fifth grade teacher, you summed up exactly my sentiments.

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    1. Thank you for paying attention. I hope your days go well.

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  43. Bravo! Thank you! My appreciation to all the teachers that are doing all they can to mitigate the effects of these ill conceived tests on their students. I applaud and support you. Thank you!

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