Education activist Diane Ravitch urged several hundred Hudson Valley educators, parents and students to keep up the fight against excessive testing — and said New York's vehement pushback is attracting national attention.
The statewide campaign calling out Gov. Cuomo's test-and-punish agenda, coupled with the rising community-based opt-out movement, is "setting a dramatic national example for states to follow in our footsteps," she told a huge crowd at Monroe-Woodbury High School on Thursday night.
"In unity, there is strength." Ravitch said. "You need to organize, mobilize and defend your child against political attacks."
Ravitch, a nationally known education reform critic, noted a number of states are launching incredible ways to evaluate the success of educators. In Massachusetts, she said, physical education teachers are being measured based on how much weight their students lose. The audience laughed but Ravitch wasn't kidding.
While policymakers want to create one-size-fits-all evaluations, Ravitch noted the reality is that a teacher may have a dream class one year and a very challenging one, the next. An educator who teaches gifted students might not see a dramatic increase in state test scores. And a standardized test might not capture the real growth for an English language learner or student with disabilities
She said Gov. Cuomo's plan to more than double the weight of standardized tests on a teacher's evaluation is just plain wrong.
"Tests are a measure, not instruction," Ravitch said. "Tests do not teach. Teachers teach."
During a Q&A session, a teacher asked what educators should say and do about the upcoming state assessments and opting out. "You shouldn't do anything to put your job in jeopardy," Ravitch said, but, as a private citizen, she said teachers should be able to talk about testing issues with other community members. NYSUT also supports a teacher's right to opt out his or her own children.
In addition to Ravitch, the audience heard from Lynn Lillian, a community activist with Fair Funding for Our Schools, and state Assemblyman James Skoufis, D-Woodbury.
Skoufis, who graduated from Monroe-Woodbury, gave an insider's view of ongoing state budget negotiations and said he was pleased that it appeared the funding piece would be decoupled from the harmful education "reforms" being pushed by the governor. Skoufis urged the audience to reach out to their local state senators as lawmakers finalize the state-spending plan.
"It was a tremendously successful night," said Monroe-Woodbury TA's Paul Ellis-Graham, a member of the NYSUT Board of Directors for the lower Hudson Valley who moderated the event. "Diane and Lynn gave educators, parents and students a shot in the arm and we gave the governor a kick in the (butt!)"