By Monique Dols- Mother of a Kindergartner and Early Childhood Educator

Stop bubble testing our babies!

October 18, 2013 at 9:12am

One teacher-mom’s open letter to Commissioner King on the serious business of counting in Kindergarten

 

October 18, 2013

 

Dear Commissioner King,

 

It appears that I have to take some time out of my day to explain to you why my just-turned-five-year-old son shouldn’t be taking your standardized bubble tests as a “Measure of Student Learning” (MOSL) in Kindergarten. I would think that the last sentence that I wrote would stand on it’s own and that I wouldn’t need to elaborate the point any further. (“Kindergarten” and “standardized bubble test” just appeared in the same sentence, in case you missed it.) Unfortunately, it seems that all of the research in best early childhood practices has been thrown out the window in the interest of what you call reform.

 

I was thinking of writing to you about all of the ways that this kind of testing is inappropriate for 4 and 5 year-old children. For example, I was thinking about how kids in this age range can’t sit still. Or how young kids have the tendency to cry and run away from being forced to do stupid stuff. I was also imagining how my son is much more likely to make an elaborate pattern on your bubble sheet than fill in “right answers.” (And this would be a much better use of his time and mathematical energies, actually.) I was also tearing up thinking about how the wonderfully empathetic minds of young children don’t understand what “cheating” is. I wanted to communicate how painful it is to me as a parent and educator to think about kids trying to help each other on the test, only to be told by their powerless teacher that that is not allowed.

 

So, I guess what I am saying Commissioner King, is that it crossed my mind to address you on all of the ways that this kind of testing will further degrade kindergarten. But then I remembered hearing that your children go to a Montessori school. And I got angry. Why? Not because I don’t think your children deserve an active, hands-on, developmentally appropriate, loving, playful, and artful experience in school. But I think all children do.  Stop bubble testing our babies!

 

Then I remembered that you don’t like hearing impassioned pleas of educators and parents. When we tried to compel you to stop destroying our children’s tenacity and love of learning at a forum in Poughkeepsie you arrogantly called us “special interest” groups and then canceled the rest of your public hearings. It sounds to me, Commissioner, that you are still developing the stamina, perseverance and grit that it takes to really listen to all the people who disagree with you and take their varying perspectives into consideration while building your own. So instead of going that route and getting all “emotional mom,” I decided to keep it simple and professional:

Commissioner King, you can’t measure student learning in Kindergarten using a pencil and paper bubble test. I’ll give you one example. On one of these Measures of Student Learning (MOSL) you ask children to select the illustration that shows 13 frogs. Something that seems so simple as being able to count thirteen is not really that simple at all. Let me explain.

 

While children are learning to count they show a number of behaviors in the process of counting actual objects that are not captured on this test. For example, if you give my son 13 buttons and ask him to count them, this is what will happen: First he will get a mischievous grin and say “A lot! So many I can hardly count!” This will tell you that he will probably have to work hard counting numbers in this range (it’s funny how kids will tell you what they need, if you listen). Then he will start counting. He starts by moving the buttons into a line, which shows us that he has some understanding that he needs to keep track of his counting. Then as he gets to 9 he will stop moving them and start just touching them where they are. This tells me that at 9 he has to start working hard to remember the counting sequence and starts attending more to that and less to keeping track. He may loose his one-to-one correspondence as he focuses his effort on the counting sequence and just hover his fingers over buttons as he chants the numbers. If I ask him to do it again, he may line up all of the buttons and accurately count them all, because the first time he tried got him warmed up for the task.

 

After he shows evidence that he grasps how to count 13, then I would ask him to give me 13 buttons from my collection. It is much more challenging to count out 13 buttons than to count a pile of 13 buttons. It requires my son to be really secure in his understanding of 13 because of different skills being juggled. The inconsistency of his counting 13 will tell us that my son is in the right range for his learning potential and I will look for lots of ways to give him 10-20 real life objects for him to count and manipulate in different contexts. We may call all of this practice in “composing and decomposing numbers to 20”. Though, as opposed to your seriously bewildering Engage NY modules, we don’t usually call it that when we are talking to 4 or 5 year-olds. Doing so doesn’t make our instruction more rigorous, it makes it more ridiculous.

 

At this point, my son is likely to pick out and start talking about his favorite button and how it is so shiny and how he loves the sparkly, rainbow-y colors. This may seem off task to you, and you may be likely to have me redirect him. But an experienced Kindergarten teacher like my son’s teacher would encourage him to play with the buttons. She would observe what he does, take his lead, help give him language for his play as he sorts the buttons by color, size, number of holes, “sparkliness” and so on. Play is serious work in Kindergarten.

 

This understanding of the development of number sense in young children is completely lost on your tests. Your system is so riddled in so-called “high standards”, and a can’t-reach-the-ever-moving-bar deficit model of education, that you have completely lost track of what makes for good teaching. I know that my child’s Kindergarten teacher is much better equipped to assess my kid’s counting than your multiple choice questions.  I am outraged by the very notion that you will assess her as a teacher using the completely unreliable “data” mined from these MOSL bubble tests.

 

Early childhood teachers are unfortunately used to being degraded, undervalued and our work rendered invisible. But enough is enough. We have to draw the line with tests that are an insult to our professional as well as common sense. Making teachers use an inappropriate assessment that is tied to their very survival as a teacher, will encourage them to do inappropriate things to kids. Tests that require kids to count frogs on pages will only encourage teachers to have kindergarteners count lots of frogs on lots of pages. Kindergarteners should be given meaningful opportunities to solve real life number problems, build nature collections, make beautiful patterns with buttons, describe objects and live and learn what it feels like to hold numbers of objects in their tiny, precious hands. They shouldn’t count frogs on pages.They should be getting dirty counting frogs in ponds.

 

Thanks for listening, Commissioner King. I know that you are working on your ability to hear criticism. I appreciate you sticking with me through all of this. I know it required a considerable attention span. Luckily unlike my 5 year old you do have the capacity for such attention, even if you don’t regularly practice using it while listening to teachers and parents. Practice makes perfect!

 

Sincerely,

 

Monique Dols, mom to a Kindergartener and early childhood teacher

 

P.S. You know Froebel, right? He’s the guy that like, totally inspired Kindergarten and Montessori. Before he came along people used to think that play in early childhood was a frivolous waste of time. I know, crazy right!? What were they thinking?

 https://www.facebook.com/notes/monique-dols/stop-bubble-testing-our-babies/10151634419316568

New York State Alliance for Public Education (NYSAPE) – Organized parent groups from across the state are calling an action alert

Action Alert from NYSAPE www.nysape.org – Please Post Everywhere for New Yorkers to start calling and emailing & faxing! 

Please call:
Governor Andrew Cuomo (518) 474-8390
Speaker of the House, Sheldon Silver (518) 455-3791
Co-Senate Majority Leaders:
Senator Dean Skelos (518) 455-3171
Senator Jeffrey Klein (518) 455-3595
Senate Education Chair, John Flanagan (518) 455-2071
Assembly Education Chair, Catherine Nolan (518) 455-4851
Chancellor Merryl Tisch (518) 474-5889
Call your http://www.regents.nysed.gov/members/home.html

Script:
My name is ( ) and I demand the resignation of the NYS Education Commissioner John King. The shutting down of parents’ voices is inexcusable. Tens of thousands of concerned citizens disagree with the education reforms and the push to share our children’s sensitive personal data. Thank you for listening to me as the Commissioner should have.

Email and/or Fax:
Email and/or Fax Governor Andrew Cuomo: gov.cuomo@chamber.state.ny.us Fax # (518) 474-1513
Copy:
Speaker of the House, Sheldon Silver: Speaker@assembly.state.ny.us Fax # (518) 455-5459
Co-Senate Majority Leaders
Senator Dean Skelos: skelos@nysenate.gov Fax # (518) 426-6950
Senator Jeffrey Klein: jdklein@senate.state.ny.us Fax # (718) 822-2321
Senate Education Chair, John Flanagan: flanagan@nysenate.gov Fax # (518) 426-6904
Assembly Education Chair, Catherine Nolan: NolanC@assembly.state.ny.us Fax # not available
Chancellor Merryl Tisch: RegentTisch@mail.nysed.gov Fax # not available
Email your http://www.regents.nysed.gov/members/home.html 
Email us to let us know you sent in your letter at NYS.Allies@gmail.com

Suggested Letter to be personalized:
Dear Governor Cuomo, 

I’m writing to express my severe displeasure at Commissioner John B. King, Jr.’s decision to cancel the state sponsored PTA town hall meetings. As parents, we have legitimate concerns regarding the NYSED’s educational reform and data sharing policies that are affecting our children. Commissioner King should have the decency and fortitude to listen to our concerns and explain his decisions publicly. The shutting down of public discourse is inexcusable and counter-productive. I demand the resignation of the NYS Education Commissioner John King.

The current policies of the NYSED are threatening our schools and our children’s learning experiences. The canceling of these important meetings is further evidence of the Commissioner’s and the NYSED’s lack of transparency and lack of concern for parents’ input. Though the Commissioner is not an elected official, he is appointed by people that are, and as one of my elected officials I am requesting that you listen and respond to our concerns.

Sincerely, 
PARENT NAME 
(School District) 
(City/Town, NY) 
Parent of # student(s) in xx grade(s)

Truth About Testing: MISCONCEPTION #4:Testing is a necessary evil.

 

Fact: 

  • Finland, one of the world’s highest-scoring nations on international assessments, has almost completely abandoned standardized testing.
  • Elite private schools in this country do not administer HST because research has proven it harms children’s cognitive processes for learning 
  • Complex thinking and skills are poorly measured by multiple-choice tests.
  • Portfolio and performance-based tools assess and foster more meaningful learning.

From: Research Brief #1: “Testing Today in Context”, CReATE, February 2012

“Some people still ask: Even given the flaws and drawbacks,don’t we need some form of standardized testing? Aren’t equity and quality ensured by standard, uniform measurements? Aren’t tests a necessary feature of a globally competitive, world-class educational system? Research shows compellingly that the answer to these questions is, no. Assessment is a necessary part of teaching, of curriculum planning, and of educational policymaking, but it does not follow that high-stakes standardized testing is the only tool that can be used for assessment purposes.”

RE Finland’s Education System: 

“While it is important to be cautious about what lessons and features can be “transported” from one setting to another, some of the features that appear to make Finnish education successful at achieving equity, the nourishing of individual students, and national economic competitiveness, include elements that U.S. educational researchers have long documented to be components of successful schools here as well. These include: investment in highly trained teachers whose work days include ample time for planning and preparation; an intentional balance of decentralization and centralization in governance, management, and curriculum design; the provision of resources for those who need them most; high standards and supports for students with special needs; as well as trust and respect within Finnish society for the work of educators. 

 

What is perhaps most striking about the Finnish education reforms that have been underway since the 1970s is the near-complete abandonment of high-stakes and standardized testing. Instead, Finland uses school-based and student-centered tasks that are embedded into the curriculum. Teachers provide formative and summative reports verbally and in writing, but the major focus is on cultivating students’ active learning. Surely, Finland must have some standardized tests? Yes, there is one exam that students may take prior to university, the matriculation exam. “is exam is not required for secondary school graduation or for entry into a university, yet it is a common practice for students to take this set of open-ended exams that emphasize problem-solving, analysis, and writing.”

“Research shows that highstakes standardized testing is counterproductive. Instead schools, districts, and countries around the globe are increasingly realizing that:

– the multiple choice test is poorly suited for measuring- let alone fostering- the complex analytical skills and kinds of critical thinking that children and youth need for meaningful civic engagement and economic success in today’s world. 

– Instead of testing for the ability to answer discrete pre-set questions, schools should assess students’ abilities to synthesize, to collaborate, to deliberate, to manage projects, to solve problems and to innovate creatively. 

– In place of compulsory end of grade tests, students need assessments that foster self-reflection, individual goal-setting and active learning skills. 

Over a century ago, our nation embraced educational testing in the pursuit of uniformity and standardization. While it is questionable whether this was appropriate even for early-to-mid 20th century industrialism, it is very clear that in the contemporary global context, more complex and standards-referenced instruments, like portfolio assessments and performance assessments, are viable and vital alternatives to high-stakes standardized testing.”

CEC15 HST Forum Anna Allanbrook, Principal Brooklyn New School, Sept. 30, 2013 from Grassroots Education Movement on Vimeo.

On Monday, September 30, the District 15 CEC hosted a high stakes testing panel with Deputy Chancellor Shael Suransky, BNS Anna Allenbrook, Leonie Haimson from Class Size Matters, Earth School’s 4/5 teacher, Jia Lee, and Fred Smith, retired NYC DOE Data Analyst and member of Change the Stakes.

“What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate!”

“What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate!”

“Wagner was echoing his boss, Chancellor Merryl Tisch. Last month she remarked:

We need to do a great job communicating why these new test scores that we’ve just seen are not an indicator that there’s been no learning or teaching going on.

It is all seen as just a failure to communicate. And therein lies the problem.  The focus on communication, rather than on a response to concerns, demonstrates a lack of faith in the ability of parents and teachers to understand what is occurring. Parents understand the high-stakes testing rationale.  They just don’t buy it.  The interpretation of grassroots parental opposition as a “communication failure” communicates arrogance.  It is the ultimate “nanny state” response—you do not understand what we know, and what we know and do are best for you.”

Today Jeanette Deutermann from L.I. testified at the first State hearing on Testing and Common Core

My name is Jeanette Deutermann. I am the parent of a fifth grader and a second grader. I became
involved in this movement almost before it could be called a movement. I became involved when
the high-stakes testing and the test driven curriculum it creates, significantly changed my ten year
old’s attitude towards school in profoundly negative ways. He went from a child who looked
forward to school in the morning and would return home talking about the projects and
interesting things that went on in the classroom, to a child who cried at night, had stomach aches,
and begged to stay home in the morning. This behavior began abruptly during the middle of his
third grade year, two months before his first state assessment. The behaviors continued until the
day I told him he would not be participating in the 4th grade state assessments, a little over a year
later. The relief on his face told me all I needed to know about what was causing his dramatic shift.
But he is not out of the woods just yet. The months and months of inevitable test prepping and
lack of adequate time for teachers to fit in any inspiring, passionate, and creative lessons in the
months leading up to the exams, will still be a challenge to overcome. There are tens of thousands
of stories just like mine, some much worse, from across Long Island and throughout New York
State. Parents are waking up the the harsh reality of what a test driven curriculum means for our
children. It is how we woke up that is most disturbing of all. We were not sought out by activist
groups. We were not approached by educators looking to protect their jobs. We were not bought,
coerced, forced, or manipulated. We were just being parents. We saw our children crying at night
over months and months of test prepping homework. We heard our children say, “please don’t
make me go to school”. We saw our eight, nine and ten year olds wake in the middle of the night
asking, “What will happen if I do bad on the test?”. On test days we watched our children break
out in hives, refuse to eat, throw up, lock themselves in school bathrooms, shake, sob, and lose
their smiles. These are not isolated instances, but an epidemic.
My research into high-stakes testing and data mining, has led me to create the Long Island OptOut group. We have over 9,700 Long Island families who have joined, and well over a thousand
students who refused last years assessments just on Long Island alone. People say to me “Wow!
Almost 10,000 people! Isn’t that amazing?”. Frankly, no; It is not amazing. What these numbers
mean, is that 9,700 parents have experienced the same heartbreak I have, while watching the
effects that excessive high-stakes tests have on their young children. 9,700 parents have had to
educate themselves on why their elementary school children no longer enjoy going to school.
9,700 parents have been forced to stand up against the unethical policies forced upon the schools
they love. 9,700 parents are tired of testing companies, rather than teachers, evaluating their
children. 9,700 parents have had enough.
When students test scores are tied to a teachers evaluation, you change the relationship between
the teacher and the student. Even the best teachers, who try not to focus on the fact that his/her
students scores can end their career, are affected by this harmful practice. Can you imagine the
pressure that puts on a young child who loves their teacher? I’ve been contacted by thousands of
teachers, too afraid to speak publicly, who tell me stories of horror from their classrooms, and
what these test are doing to their teaching styles and to their students. Stories of kindergarten
children who begin crying when the teacher takes out her timer because they know it is yet
another local exam they will be administered. Stories of special education students begging
through tears for their teacher to PLEASE just help them to understand a word they do not know
so they can answer a question on the ELA assessment. Or the third grade teacher who herself broke down crying when telling me that she feels responsible for the abuse to her students when
administering hours upon hours of developmentally inappropriate tests to seven year olds who are
being set up to fail. The State Education department will say that they do not understand why the
children are reacting this way, when they clearly warned them ahead of time that most of them
would fail this year’s assessments. In fact they predicted that only 30% of our children would pass,
before the test was even given. The SED used phrases such as “jump into the deep end of the
pool”, and “rip off the band-aide”. After the damage was done, the SED tells children “not to feel
like failures”. But that is exactly what our state’s young children feel like. Young children spent
three quarters of their year test prepping daily, attend early morning test prepping classes for
months leading up to the tests, and are subjected to pep rallies and school songs which include
lyrics such as “we will score fours”. The day of the tests arrived. Students across New York State
sat in front of a test that they did not understand, and could not complete. They left the tests
feeling like failures. They were labeled failures by the SED. This was not a failure of our schools,
but of the State Education Department’s mandates that are choking the life out of our students,
teachers, and schools. The SED tells us they have set the bar high to align with the path to college
readiness. Why is it then that hundreds of eighth graders across Long Island scored one’s and
two’s on the eighth grade math test, yet when taking the algebra regents two months later, scored
above 80, meeting the state’s college ready standard! It just doesn’t make sense. How can we tell
an eighth grader they are not ready for ninth grade, but they are ready for college? The bar for
proficiency has been set artificially high.
This needs to end, and we cannot afford to wait. Parents have been backed into a corner. We
allowed changes to happen in our schools through this regents reform movement without
realizing the damage that was to come. Many have said these reforms will fail by their own right.
But by then, the damage to my children will have already been done. My 10 year old is already
counting the years he has left before he will no longer be forced to go to school. “College and
career ready” will be of no use for the tens of thousands of students who will burn out long before
their college days are upon them. Inferior teaching to the test practices that dominate the school
year are a direct result of tying teacher evaluations to our children’s test scores. Through the
regents reform movement, the education system of New York, which has once been a source of
pride for teachers, parents, students, and citizens, is now one of fear, anger, humiliation,
depersonalization, frustration, and sorrow. This movement to end high-stakes testing and data
mining is growing rapidly. I have had close to a thousand new members join just over the past few
weeks. We are committed. We are organized. We are not going away.
New York State’s children need you to save them; and they need to be saved now. Help us stop
high-stakes tests tied to teacher evaluations. Help us protect our children’s private records and
data. Help us save our public education system. Please help us restore the love of learning to our
children.

Thank you,
Jeanette Deutermann

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world;
indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Margaret Mead

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