NYSUT’s advice to opt out of tests serves the union’s cause, but not those of students or of education - The Buffalo News
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NYSUT’s advice to opt out of tests serves the union’s cause, but not those of students or of education

If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. Improvement means change and New York State United Teachers are not much into that.

That’s why the unconscionable push by the state teachers union to get parents to opt their children out of state math and reading testing is so destructive. Ultimately, it hurts students, districts and the state, itself.

Parents are being hoodwinked and New York State United Teachers is the single most influential force behind the push.

As a recent News article by Denise Jewell Gee reported, an estimated 60,000 students refused to take state math and reading tests across the state last year. Now, anti-testing organizers hope to grow those numbers to 250,000 – about 20 percent of the third- through eighth-graders in the state – this month.

Ill-informed parents are being guided by groups large and small but none as powerful and well-financed as the New York State United Teachers, which has charted a roadmap to insubordination.

While not directly prodding parents until Monday, when President Karen Magee went public with her admonition that parents opt out of the exams, NYSUT has since January thinly veiled its intentions by providing detailed information to parents about their rights and potential consequences.

Those consequences can vary, as outlined in The News article. However, not taking the tests deprives state officials an accurate picture of progress. State Education Chancellor Merryl Tisch is absolutely right: “Why would you not want to know whether all students are making progress, not just the lucky few?”

Speaking of the disparities that are made clear through testing, a quick glance at a News chart showing graduation rates, English and math assessment for 2013-14 at the five Buffalo Public Schools in line to come under a new turnaround strategy speaks volumes. At Buffalo Elementary School of Technology, 4 percent of students scored proficiently on math assessments, up from 2 percent the previous year. The English Language Arts assessments logged 4 percent of students scoring proficiently, down from 5 percent the previous year. At Futures Preparatory, 1 percent of students scored proficiently, down from 2, and 0 percent of students scored proficiently in math, the same as the previous year.

Those are stark numbers but they have to be known in order to advocate for and to formulate plans for useful change. It’s not enough to clamor for more money. To be sure, adequate resources are key to education. But New York has been shoveling money into education for decades; even with cuts in recent years, New York spends more on education per student than any other state. Plainly, money is not the fundamental issue.

There is apprehension by teachers unions about having the tests linked to performance. Parents should be aware of the full measure of that concern and how they might unwittingly help in the delinking of test scores to evaluations.

In other words, this is not just about their children’s education. It is about job security for teachers. Is it fair to put that kind of pressure on a third-grader?

Students will face a myriad of challenges when they get older. Teaching them that they don’t have to do things they don’t like to do fails to serve them in the long run. Life doesn’t work that way; not for most people, anyway.

Some parents are worried about overtesting. It is fair to continue looking at the system to see if it can be made more efficient. The same is true for how the state evaluates teachers. Both should be seen as works in progress. However, it is foolish to expect predictable improvement without evaluation.

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