Parents plan rallies to protest schools' 'high-stakes testing'

Undated file photo of elementary school children in Undated file photo of elementary school children in a classroom with their teacher. Photo Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

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With the annual state tests for students in grades 3-8 looming, Hudson Valley parents are organizing events in which critics will speak their minds about what they call high-stakes testing.

Parent-teacher groups and school leaders in 12 Westchester school districts are organizing letter-writing campaigns, meetings and panels to air complaints about a testing regimen they believe has gone too far.

Farther north, parents in New Paltz have organized Rethinking Testing Mid-Hudson, which this month will stage four events focusing on parent concerns about the increased frequency of standardized testing and the use of test scores to rate schools and teacher performance.

State education officials last month warned that students will struggle on tests this year, chiefly because the tests will gauge mastery of the Common Core Curriculum -- a new approach to public education introduced only last fall. Both parents and teachers are questioning whether the results of tests during the first year of the new curriculum will be reliable.

SUNY New Paltz educational studies professor Nancy Schniedewind is calling on parents to take action against high-stakes testing this month.

Schniedewind, who published the book "Educational Courage" in September, has trained teachers in schools across the Northeast for the past 25 years. She became an activist opposing the federal policies of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top in the early 2000s, when she felt issues of fiscal equity and fairness to minority students were cast aside.

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Her book was inspired by the many voices -- of parents, teachers and students -- who she felt weren't being heard in their resistance to federal education policies.

She is a founding member of Rethinking Testing Mid-Hudson.

In an interview with Newsday, Schniedewind said parents have the power to change the tide in education policy.

Q: What in your mind is the big problem at this moment in time with Race to the Top?

A: There are a couple of big problems. One is that local communities are losing their ability to influence both educational policies and finances. So never before in the history of public education has the federal government -- and now they're tied up with corporate America very tightly -- had as much control over education. As educators, we know and as communities, we know that the history of public education has been people in communities making decisions about schooling and about what's appropriate for their children.

Q: Why do you feel that having a locally controlled public education system is important?

A: People pay taxes, and those taxes should go for an educational system that they have some say in. Local school boards are elected. Local school boards make decisions. And right now, there are many educational policies that school boards have no control over.

Plus the money that is being demanded by high-stakes testing could be going to other things, and local school districts should have the say.

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So what we see is a system now that is taking money away from local decision makers. We're seeing teachers' jobs being lost. We're seeing curriculum being narrowed. We're seeing sports, after-school programs being cut, schools being closed.

At the same time across the country, billions -- we pay every year estimates of between $20 [billion] to $50 billion -- are being spent for high-stakes testing. We see money going to testing mandated by Race to the Top -- one of the biggest mandates of Race to the Top is high-stakes testing -- and districts, parents, teachers, school boards can't say "no" right now.

Q: As an education reporter, I've talked to parents for years who have opposed high-stakes testing, yet the policies seem to continue to increasingly emphasize test data. Can parents really have an effect on policy?

A: Parents are the ones who have the power. If parents start saying, "No, this is unacceptable," parents are the ones who can bring this house of cards down. They can say, "No, I am not willing to have my child's private data be sent." "No, I am not going to have my child take this test." Or "Yes, I'm going to Albany." or "No, I'm not going to vote for any elected official who doesn't take a stand against high-stakes testing."

Rethinking Testing Mid-Hudson April events

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• April 2: Join the Conversation, a talk at New Paltz Elting Memorial Library with parents. At 7 p.m., 93 Main St., New Paltz.

• April 11: Cheating Our Children, Panelists from four counties representing educators, administrators and parents will speak about the effect of high-stakes testing. At 7 p.m., SUNY New Paltz, Coykendall Science Center Auditorium.

• April 16: Opt Out Day 2013 -- Rethinking Testing parents and children opt out of testing and head to Albany. At 11 a.m., state Capitol.

• April 25: A Talk by Alfie Kohn -- Asking Questions About Common Core Standards -- SUNY New Paltz, Coykendall Science Center Auditorium.

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