ERIE COUNTY — Chris Cerrone is a teacher, a parent and a growing political advocate against high-stake testing in schools.
The committee group New York State Allies for Public Education formed in July, with no funding, by the hand of eight parents with a common goal.
“We are class mothers and fathers, community advocates, parents and neighbors of graduates, teachers, professors and unrelenting supporters of public education who believe excessive testing and inappropriate sharing of private student data without parental consent threaten the future of our students, our schools, and our state,” said the group’s website, www.nysape.org
Cerrone said that he is participating in this effort not as a teacher, but as a parent; his children are enrolled in the Springville-Griffith Institute School District.
The stated argument against excessive testing, or what is often termed as “high-stake testing,” is that it is an invalid measure of students’ intelligence; that it does not help improve teacher instruction, it is not sufficient for time spent learning and the tests are costly to taxpayers.
“There’s a lot of concern about this,” Cerrone said. “The movement against high-stake testing is growing.”
The NYSAPE is asking parents to send test scores back to New York State Education Commissioner Dr. John King at the New York State Education Department located in Albany. Cerrone said the purpose of this action is “to let them know ... it’s not a valid measure of the child’s education process.”
Cerrone said that graded scores received back are vague and do not provide enough information for teachers to truly understand students’ progress.
According to the group’s website, 31 percent of students passed standardized tests, during the current academic year. The argument is that teachers would be able to provide more extensive and intensive teaching for students, provided time was not spent preparing for a state assessment test that does not assist either party involved in a beneficial way.
Cerrone said that education officials claim these tests will help improve instruction for teachers, but he added that the data received is too vague. “We are not anti-test,” he said. From his point of view as a teacher, he said that there must be a balance within the classroom: a balance of projects, creativity and testing.
This protest was developed because, if these tests are looked at through a cost-reward lens, the high-stake assessments are hindering more than helping the young students, according to Cerrone.
The website breaks down and backs up the group’s argument with statistical analysis and other facts. “Excessive standardized testing is consuming 25 percent of our children’s academic year ... [and] costs millions of dollars,” it said.
The site also provides sample letters and phone messages to leave for officials, for those interested in assisting with the protest campaign. A downloadable “fill-in-the-blank” letter read, “Although Commissioner King has reversed course and rescheduled meetings around the state (in a format he believes will produce more ‘constructive dialogue’), his ability to lead the school districts of New York has been called into serious question.”
Cerrone published a post on
@The Chalk Face (www.atthechalkface.com
), explaining in detail what King has done to fuel the NYSAPE campaign. He said that King has interrupted parents, refused to answer questions about state tests and has suspended five Common Core town hall meetings.
“Parents are awakening to the disaster that the Common Core, along with excessive and high-stake testing, are causing in our classrooms,” Cerrone, said in his post titled “Parents: Time to Dethrone King.”
A list of various education advocacy groups, spanning New York state, that have united with the NYSAPE to help with the effort, is available on that site. Groups from New York City, Long Island, Western New York, Central New York, the Adirondacks and the Hudson Valley regions have joined this endeavor.
To show the extent of state support, the NYSAPE website lists the NYS school districts that have adopted resolutions against standardized testing; six pages currently list 89 supporting districts.
The group’s website provides a FAQ section for interested parents, or those with additional questions.
It said that students are not legally provided an “opt-out” provision for this test; not taking the exams is considered a refusal. The site added that children are not negatively affected by refusing the tests, but said that students should not refuse the required Regents exams.
Frontier Interim Superintendent Paul Hashem agreed with points and arguments brought to the table by NYSAPE, and added that he believes there are three issues with high-stake testing.
The first is the quantity of testing. “The number of high-stake tests is ridiculous,” he said.
The second issue he spoke about is the length of time that the test consumes. “The time to take the tests, especially for our elementary and middle school children, is something that has grown a life of its own,” he said. Some testing can take up to nine hours, and Hashem commented, “Bar examinations and medical exams aren’t even that long.”
He said that the third issue is the insufficient amount of preparation time, which in turn leads to low test scores. “It’s not fair, in my opinion,” Hashem said. “All the scores did was confuse the students ... the students are just going to think, ‘Jeez, I guess I’m kind of stupid.’”
He also expressed concern about how these tests impact high-stake decisions, when it comes to teachers, students, principals, districts and “ultimately, our funding.”
Overall, Hashem said that his belief about high-stake testing is that “the positive purposes of our public education, in my opinion, are being degraded by the punitive testing environment ... and that kind of environment needs to be changed.”
Mark Vona, a music teacher in the Eden Central School District, voiced his thoughts to the local school board at an Oct. 16 meeting about high-stake testing. He spoke to The Sun about his viewpoint, from a teacher’s perspective.
“The way the testing has made such a big high-stakes issue out of math and English Language Arts, and the scores of these tests, you can feel that it’s palpable in the building,” Vona said. He reiterated the same point as Cerrone, that the goal is not to be anti-testing, but to ensure that testing is being done “the correct way and for the right purposes.”
“The thing that moved me to do this is just in watching the students here at school,” Vona said, “and the effect that this testing has had on our curriculum and our scheduling.”
In a broad scope, he said that assessment testing has affected the timetable within the school buildings, making scheduling difficult or nearly impossible. He added that there is also a narrowing of the curriculum, because the focus has become more and more directed toward math and ELA.
“Education is now thought of as math and ELA, and that, I think is wrong,” Vona said. He had a student pulled from his chorus class because of low testing in ELA; Vona said he believes he can use music instruction to get through to the student, but added that the structural design of high-stakes testing and its repercussions is making that goal difficult.
“I want people to be informed,” he said. “It’s a difficult subject to understand, if you’re not within the school. When you’re in the classroom with the kid, that’s where the rubber meets the road.” He said he is hopeful that the school will consider developing a resolution.
“The results of these tests are being used in the media,” Vona said. “They’re painting a picture that isn’t really there.”