Parent Testimony on HS Diploma Options to the NYS Assembly Minority

by JAC and Ben's Mom 6. March 2016 08:08
Testimony to the NYS Assembly Minority Forum
on High School Diploma Options

It has been suggested to me that perhaps I, the parent is the one who is having anxiety over the Regents Exams. This is without a doubt, true to some extent. I did not attend high school in New York State and attended elementary school in a small Central New York school in late 60’s and early 70’s as the standardized testing was just getting rolling. Back when standardized tests were not hours and days long, and deliberately levels above a student’s ability and reading level but actually based on what a classroom teacher taught and provided a teacher with information on students that helped to guide the instruction of that student. Where I attended junior high and high school there were no exit exams in the late 70’s. To obtain a high school diploma a student had to pass the required courses in all the basic subject areas. If a student did not pass they repeated the course in summer school. I was not a model student, I repeated some classes in summer school and took elective courses in my preferred areas of study, art and child care, but I did well enough (passing) to qualify for a student internship for 10th through 12th grade working 2 periods a day as an aid in my high school’s special education class with students who’s ability levels would never exceed that of a toddler. I coached Special Olympics. When I was old enough my parents signed permission for a yearlong course in American Sign Language being taught at the Career School where none college bound students and adults learned trades. I received letters of recommendation from my teachers based on my skills, commitment and dedication. Not my grades. In addition from the age of 13 I had my own business and sold my art work in local and not so local shops and craft fairs. My parents were supportive of all my endeavors and coming from poverty had no vision of college and the expense of it for me or my 3 brothers. We were kids. In junior high and high school my only plan was to be a kid, make art and move back to New York, maybe New York City and get married and have a family someday. I figured it would sort itself out after graduation when I was working and bringing in some better income. I knew my family could not help me. A failing test score was not a roadblock to fulfilling my dreams and life ambitions.

By the age of 23 I was living on Long Island, my home for the past 30 years. Fifteen years ago I became a parent of a child who learns differently, at a different pace and knows what it is like to be bullied and pushed aside for marching to the beat of his own drum. He is smart and creative and has preserved through a system that shut him out of opportunities, including electives at school that his peers participated in and benefited from. Instead of spending time in my studio creating art I spend my time advocating for my child to have a shot at realizing his dreams, to get to the future that he has envisioned for himself. With the dedication of my child’s skilled and insightful teachers he has developed a work ethic and commitment to succeeding at school that serves him well and is a credit to the fine educators he has had from year to year. We are proud of him. His hard work, his continued battle to overcome his personal obstacles, learning disabilities and daily challenges have led to three years on the Honor Roll and High Honor Roll.

My son, like many others, has gone without electives like art, tech, music, to spend his time in resource room and AIS, workshops and labs. He arranges on his own for extra help. He makes use of extra credit when teachers give it and excels at projects that showcase his self-taught artistic, computer graphic and research abilities. He knows how to use his strengths to compensate for his inconsistent test scores. He, like many of his peers that learn differently must work harder and longer to reach the same goals as many of his general ed peers. It is frustrating.

Many children with special learning differences do really well on day to day class work, class room quizzes and tests with the support of caring teachers and accommodations. They fall short on large content exams like mid-terms and standardized tests. We reward them by taking away art and music, lunch time with peers that would engage their personal interests, make school worth attending and engage them in the high school and middle school social experience that many of these kids need to become well rounded. We replace electives with more remediation to help them “pass the test”. At the end of the long day of early and late extra help and no lunch because of labs many special learners are too exhausted for after school activities and go home with a mountain of homework that takes them longer to complete than their peers just hoping to rest their brain and be a kid for a while. In high school we punish them with tests that they fail, and must retake and fail again to get a diploma. After years of great attendance, working hard, handing in homework on time, going to extra help, going without electives they realize one failing score on one test may keep them in school until they are 21 or not give them the diploma they need to go to college or trade school or into the military or even to get a job. They may as well give up early and accept the fact that they are failures and will live in their parent’s basement forever. It is very disheartening when I see my son’s honor roll status, his little class award certificates, student of the month! to know that all of his years of hard work may be for nothing because New York State Ed deems him a failure because he is not a good test taker and my not be an AP student. NYSED will decide, without ever meeting my child, seeing how amazing he is, how hard he works, and how incredible his teachers have been, they, NYSED may cut off his dreams and hopes and decide if he is “college & career ready” and he is not worthy of participating in society on the basis’ of ONE test, taken on one day. How dare they take this away from children who work so hard? One size does not fit all, and we should be celebrating the success of each child. Not tearing them down and putting roadblocks to the future in the way in the name of data collection, profit and rating hard working teachers.

Anxious about the Regents? Yes. Angry. Frustrated. Yes. There are dozens of paths to get a diploma in New York. Each one more confusing than the next and each one involving mastery of large content that was covered quickly and soon forgotten. None of these paths address the true student that struggles academically and is otherwise gifted. The classes are not taught to inspire our children to become lifelong learners. They are taught to process data/content for a test. I am anxious that the Regents Exams tied to my son’s class grades and graduation requirement will set him on an ugly cycle of test and punish ending with no diploma and no future and loss of confidence and self-esteem.

The fact that these high stake tests could stand between my son and others and a diploma is very frustrating. Now that Common Core has come and with it its age and developmentally inappropriate standards and content have entered our curriculum, the exams are even more flawed. I must question these exams, and the validity of using them toward graduation as well as class grade for children with special needs. New York has created multiple pathways to a diploma, each more confusing and all dependent on passing these tests. While my son can show proficiency in class work, large content exams have never been his strength and I fear he will be punished for his lack of test taking prowess simply because he learns at a different pace and has a different learning style than most. I have no desire for him to take the Regents exams and fail and try again. Children should not be punished with ideals made by politicians that are meant to profit a few corporations and separate the average man from the college bound. These tests are failing children and denying them diplomas which sentence them to a life of living in poverty or mediocre income. I don’t see these exams as a true indicator of what my son knows or can do. Certainly that they are being used to evaluate teachers is insane, particularly when a child passes the class with averages in the 80’s or 90’s and then fails the tests the teacher is rated by. This was one of my primary reasons for refusing the grade 3-8 tests for my children. It is too much to put on a kid. And I have too much respect for his great teachers to allow a false failing score to evaluate them. It has been proven to me time and again that these snap shot test scores were no indicator of the quality teaching my child has received. These exams are not a useful recognition for my child’s daily sacrifice and struggle, his attendance, commitment to succeed and his teacher’s dedication.

We are stuck in a test and punish cycle of these one size fits all tests determining the worth of a child and the skills of a teacher. School seems to have become the only time in a person’s life when they are expected to be great at everything regardless of their natural abilities and interests. Guess what? Not everyone likes math and science and is good at it. Those of us that don’t like math or science find careers that can avoid it or use less of it. The Common Core’s misguided literature selections, the lack of classic fiction, and the addition of close reading has all but ensured our kids hate to read so the window to the world, discovery and self-discovery and imagination is slowly being shut. Curriculum content is being rushed past our children at an early age and at a faster pace than many can keep up with. Why? People are working longer and retiring later in life, what is the hurry to make little adults out of our children? Let them play, let them have hands on learning and engage with teachers and peers instead of staring at screens and constant testing. Slow down, let them do projects that help them remember what they learned and own it for life, not just to pass a test to graduate. Let them have classes and courses that engage them and inspire them to find what they love and help them become valuable participants in our society.

My children are in 7th and 9th grade, it is too late for them. They hate school since the common core and all the testing and teach to the test instead of learning. State Ed has failed them. With the ridiculous Common Core standards, Engage NY, Close Reading, High Stake testing and fast pace that only a few kids can keep up with they don’t trust NYSED to do the right thing. Kids are not dumb. They know the difference between authentic learning experiences and what our schools are offering them now. Instead of high stake tests tied to a diploma we need options so that allow all kids to get a valid diploma without jumping through so many hoops. School should be about LEARNING. Parents like me are losing sleep over tests that mean NOTHING to our children and do not show what they know and have sucked the joy out of learning and made school an impossible situation where failure shadows every move. After years of hard work, making the honor roll, giving up electives, lunch, after school activities my special ed kid may fail the regents exams and not get a diploma. That could deny him the means to support himself based on a single test failure. That is not okay. If you want to ensure that our kids graduate bring back reading fiction and celebrating the talents, differences and successes of each child. Allow our well trained, creative and dedicated teachers to do what they went to school for: to teach to the individual needs of each child so that each one knows success and realizes his or her full potential. Stop measuring all success with tests not made by our children’s teachers. Let our teachers have a say in the curriculum that best suits the children they teach and how to teach it and the pace they go so each one can learn. One size fits all does not work. Hours of testing and canned age and developmentally inappropriate curriculum is boring and has destroyed the love of learning and the joy of teaching. Children with special needs should not sit for 12 hours for 2 Regents exam in one day. Test and punish has got to stop. Abusing our children has got to stop. Our teachers work hard, they are supportive and well trained. Our schools don’t need more computers and fancy tech programs. We need more experienced educators to mentor the young teachers and to make class sizes smaller. We need more art, music and fun that makes school not stink. School should be something that kids love to go to, an exciting adventure, not something they dread, not something they just “have to get through”. This isn’t learning, this isn’t exploring, discovering. This is little square pegs being pounded into round holes. It is sad. It is not fooling anyone.

My son and many other children who work hard at school but struggle need a local diploma. I believe in and want higher standards for our children. I want my child’s teachers who KNOW him to have ways to evaluate his proficiency according to his individual needs. We need a valid diploma option that is not tied to high stake testing and does not require students to jump through so many hoops to show they have achieved and are “worthy” of having the future that they alone should decide on.
Tying these high stake tests to the diploma puts the future of children at risk. It puts the stability of our community and economy in jeopardy. It is past due for this to be fixed for ALL children.

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