April 2015 Issue - Testing/Assessments and Learning Standards
March 20, 2015

Regents take no action on field test mandate

Author: By Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United

Thanks to outreach by thousands of NYSUT activists, friends and family, the Board of Regents has put off action on a plan to require school districts to participate in field testing for state exams.

The Regents backed down after they received more than 16,000 emails via NYSUT's Member Action Center. In addition, many activists submitted feedback during the State Education Department's 45- day comment period.

The union and other education advocates condemned the Regents' plan to require school districts to participate in stand-alone field testing for state exams in June. After discussing the new regulatory mandate in November, the Regents were scheduled to vote on it in February.

"NYSUT has been clear that students should not be subjected to overtesting or burdened with field tests that are conducted for the main purpose of benefiting test-makers," said NYSUT President Karen E. Magee.

"It's time to let teachers teach," said NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino, who works closely with the Regents. "Mandatory field tests would only further erode instructional time and take time away from real learning." She noted the field tests have no diagnostic value since the students' responses are not shared with teachers or schools.

NYSUT supports districts that choose to opt out of field tests. Last June, a number of districts — primarily in the Hudson Valley and on Long Island — chose not to participate in SED's field testing for grades 3-8 math and ELA. The movement is definitely spreading this year.

Some districts are taking the idea a step further, questioning whether to participate in state testing at all. In western New York, both the Kenmore School Board and Fairport district have talked about not administering the state's assessments for grades 3-8 ELA and math.

"NYSUT has long supported a parent's right to opt out their children from state assessments," Magee said. "Now we're seeing (school officials) who are willing to engage in acts of civil disobedience and not administer the tests."

During debate at the Regents' November meeting, Regent Kathleen Cashin questioned the timing of the regulation after SED officials said field testing is essential to sample possible questions and ensure test validity.

"What I'm cautioning us to be aware of is, at a time when there is a tremendous anti-testing movement ... Why are we mandating it if we don't have to?"

The Regents asked for $8.4 million in the state budget to enable SED to print more versions of the regular tests with the field questions embedded in them. SED said the field testing mandate could be brought back if funding is not provided.

Get the facts on parents opting out

NYSUT's Research and Educational Services has posted a fact sheet on "Opting out of state tests." NYSUT fully supports parents' right to choose what is best for their children, including NYSUT members who decide as parents to opt their child out of state tests.

SED claims there is no provision in state law that allows students to "opt out." Some districts have provided parents with inaccurate information on the consequences of opting out.

The NYSUT fact sheet attempts to clear up the misinformation by reviewing the federal requirements for participation in the state assessments and potential consequences of opting out for districts, students and teachers.

To download the sheet, go to www.nysut.org/factsheets.