The Endless Weaponizing of State Assessments Against Urban Public Schools & Students (Report 1)
This is the first report from my new blog series: The Intersection of Public Education, Labor, & Democracy. The introduction and purpose of this blog series can be read, here.
April 21, 2022
The New York State ELA Assessment for grades 3-8 was recently administered and the State Math Assessment will be administered, next week.
For full disclosure, both of my sons- third and sixth graders in BPS- took the ELA Assessment and will take the Math Assessment. My sixth grade son did not take the state assessments last year. This is a decision that my wife and I collectively make with our children. It remains a respected parent choice on whether children participate in taking grades 3-8 state assessments. I don't necessarily believe that standardized assessments, themselves, are the problem. Problems exist more in how state standardized assessments are used, the amount of direct and indirect time spent on them, and the weight that they are given. Based on the perspectives and actions of NY State Board of Regents Chancellor Dr. Lester Young and NY State Education Department Commissioner Dr. Betty Rosa, I believe they understand the limitations, misuses, and previous harms of state standardized assessments and that they will not commit the same mistakes as previous leaders.
With this said, the obsession with state assessments from local public education critics is ramping up. Lately, it seems a week doesn't go by without the media, the Buffalo News Editorial Board, or a public education critic using outdated and out of context state assessment results to denigrate Buffalo Public Schools and our students and teachers. Just recently, a Buffalo News reporter stated this in a story about the upcoming school board election:
"Only about a quarter of the students were proficient in math or reading on the last round of state assessment tests."
An “Investigative Post” story from January 10, 2022, heavily promulgated this narrative. Almost identical to the Buffalo News reporter, the IP reporter regurgitates the 2018-2019 state assessment results, saying:
"Standardized tests showed that about three-quarters of Buffalo students weren’t able to read, write and perform math at grade level in the 2018-19 school year, the last full year before the pandemic."
Certainly, sensational on its face for a deficit-mindset and really no surprise that it would be used and promulgated by those who are uniformed or have an ulterior motive.
First, it is absolutely false to equate the “proficiency” results, that are arbitrarily determined by the NYS State Education Department on one test, to grade level performance. My sixth grade son who was “not proficient” on the ELA State Assessment in 2019, as a fourth grader, is now performing on grade level in reading and writing after receiving necessary intervention, which was identified and implemented by teachers.
Second, let’s give this “three-fourths” of Buffalo Public School students are deficient some very necessary context. In 2019, for all of Erie County school districts, about 60% of students, using the reporter’s words, “weren’t able to read, write, and perform math at grade level.” Almost 70% of Buffalo Charter students in 2019 “weren’t able to read, write, and perform math at grade level.” The public education critics and media never include this important and telling context.
Third, let’s factor in the percentage of students that are Economically Disadvantaged, Students with Disabilities, and English Language Learners, where, collectively they are far higher in Buffalo Public Schools, compared to Buffalo Charters, all of Erie County, and the State. BPS has far more Students with Disabilities (23%) and English Language Learners (17%) than Buffalo Charters (11% and 4%, respectively) and all of Erie County with BPS students included (17% and 7%, respectively). 82% of students who are Economically Disadvantaged in BPS is far higher for all of Erie County and the State. It is reasonable to conclude that these demographic differences account for the difference in state assessment outcomes.
The IP story then misleads readers to believe that “continued cancellation and low participation in New York’s standardized tests has left many schools without a usual benchmark of student achievement.”
First, this claim applies to charter schools and all other districts, where in some suburban districts, rates for opting out of state tests have been far higher than in urban districts. How are these suburban schools getting by without this proclaimed vital data?
Second, schools and teachers are assessing students daily and weekly and some with standardized assessments.
On November 10, 2021, standardized assessment results were presented in a Buffalo Board of Education Work Session. Readers can watch the video of this presentation, at the 4:35 mark: November 10, 2021 Work Session (Video 4:35) or view the Power Point Presentation: November 10, 2021 Work Session Powerpoint.
Readers will find that there is a plethora of assessments, some of which are standardized, that are administered to students and done so on an ongoing basis throughout the school year. Teachers are assessing students almost daily. I know, as a Buffalo Public School parent, that this is occurring and providing far more useful information on my children’s strengths, needs, and responses to intervention, than the state assessments ever have. I know this as a school psychologist with training and many years of experience in assessments, as well.
Below are some of the many assessment tools that are being implemented in Buffalo Public Schools:
Additional Assessments used in BPS
4, 8 science assessments (soon to be gr 5)
Report card grades
Teacher created assessments
Programmatic exit tickets (e.g., math modules/Zearn, ELA modules)
Programmatic assessments (e.g., Journeys selection tests)
The Chancellor of the NY State Board of Regents Lester W. Young Jr. critiques standardized state assessments quite well in his commentary in the New York State School Boards Association publication on April 4, 2022, titled: Reimagining New York's assessment strategy (page 11). He states:
"Logic dictates that a single examination, administered by pencil and paper on a single day, simply cannot capture the kinds of deeper and more meaningful learning we are seeking to provide all students. If we want our public school system to provide rigorous and comprehensive opportunities for all children, then we will have to ensure that the entire process is anchored in the current knowledge base of learning and development..."
"Because New York's state assessments are paper-and-pencil based and traditional in design, they tend to incentivize a seat time model of instruction and are not, in and of themselves, reliable predictors of post secondary success."
Chancellor Young then explains meaningful alternatives, including a consortium system of standards, such as, "student focused and externally reviewed projects, papers, performances, experiments, and experiences."
The premise of Chancellor Young's commentary appears directed toward the future of Regents Exams, but his critique and logic can undoubtedly be applied to grades 3-8 state assessments. It is encouraging to see our NYSED leaders and decision-makers see the light on this issue.
I know that local critics and some media bias will persist in weaponizing state assessments against BPS schools, students, and teachers, especially when results for 2022 are released and we progress toward the school board election in November. My hope is that more of the public will understand the game that is being played and some of our good, well-intended reporters will be more diligent in challenging this promulgation, and, if they must report it, provide the necessary context to better and more accurately inform their audience.
As I stated in the introduction to this new blog, none of this is intended to convey that there’s nothing wrong in Buffalo Public Schools and everything is all hunky-dory. It’s not saying that we don’t deserve criticism. It’s not discounting the everyday challenges that our students, families, and staff continue to experience. These are real, they are profound, and they deserve much attention. It is saying that reporting and criticism should be done accurately and fairly in full context without sensationalizing, misleading, and exploiting.
Buffalo Board of Education
***The thoughts and opinions shared in this blog series are mine, and mine alone.***