Opinion > Commentary

Testing bill would dim the light on state’s most vulnerable students


Ama Nyamekye

Ama Nyamekye

I was an immigrant when I entered this country and our public school system. Because of my “funny accent,” I was too embarrassed to speak or read aloud in class and my school threatened to hold me back a year for remediation. It was not until my father demanded that I be tested that I was classified as being gifted, the top of my class. And suddenly, a door of access and opportunity was opened for me.

As a teacher, I recognize now how lucky I was to have found and entered that door—lucky to have parents and teachers who had the guts and the information to advocate for my education. I learned that the test was a critical tool to provide my teachers and parents with information that could be used to support my learning. With my students, I strived to leverage a variety of tools in the classroom—inspired and effective instruction, a range of teacher-created assessments as well as standardized testing, and parent advocacy to shed a brighter light on the unique needs and talents of my students. Removing any part of that combination would have limited my ability to offer students increasing rigor, support and opportunity.

Unfortunately, the Legislature has passed a bill that dims the light of information teachers use to better understand and advocate for our students. Assembly Bill 484 would suspend the use of state testing, limiting our access to information used to help identify the students in need of special services or intervention because they are at risk of falling behind or those eligible for selective programs and schools that might better meet their needs. The tests also help us to make informed decisions about the readiness and remediation needed for college placement and gauge the performance of our students in relation to their peers across the state.

That’s why Educators 4 Excellence joined several community organizations in urging Governor Brown to veto AB 484. Under this bill, parents, like my own father, won’t have state information to understand and advocate for their child’s special needs. Even more troubling, our state leaders are considering eliminating information at the precise moment teachers across the state are calling for increased family engagement and involvement to support critical work in the classroom. This bill removes a tool used to help parents have honest and meaningful conversations with their children, school leaders and teachers about areas for celebration and growth.

The goal of the bill is to provide a path to learning standards that are based on the more rigorous and meaningful Common Core. That’s the right goal—but eliminating all test data for up to two years while we transition to Common Core is the wrong way to achieve a worthy goal. Instead, we need a reasonable plan that does not leave parents, students and teachers in the dark as we transition to Common Core standards.

Teachers, particularly those working with high-needs students, need ongoing training, technology tools and regular feedback to make the transition to new standards. This spring, E4E teachers offered a rational middle-ground proposal to address the need to quickly get our schools “Common Core-ready,” proposing and advocating for Los Angeles Unified School District to create a leadership opportunity for teachers who are trained to be peer leaders and in-school trainers around Common Core. This position is now included in the district’s newly passed Common Core budget as “teacher advisers,” to support implementation on the school level. It’s an example of one way we can build upon and leverage the talent in our schools to address the large learning curve that is inevitable as we make this shift.

As an advocate for teachers and students, I worry any time we talk about removing tools and information from our schools. Let’s be clear, when we threaten to dim the light of information and transparency in public education, we are leaving our most vulnerable stakeholders in the dark. Our most vulnerable stakeholders are students with special needs, children living in foster care, English language learners and those in high-poverty schools. These are the very students who need access to more—not less—information and resources to support their growth and advancement.

Families like mine—those struggling to make ends meet and attain the American Dream—have the most to lose in this legislative battle. Access to information coupled with the fearless advocacy of my parents and teachers helped me find my voice and grow as a learner and then become a gifted elementary school student, a talkative honors student and a graduate at the top of my college class. The pursuit of information and equity inspired me to become an English teacher in our public school system and work as an advocate committed to ensuring all students can find and open doors of opportunity.

•••

Ama Nyamekye is the executive director of Educators 4 Excellence: Los Angeles, a teacher-led organization with a nationwide network of 12,000 teachers. She holds a Master’s in Teaching from Pace University and a Master’s in Strategic Communications from Columbia University. She founded Turn the Page, a library and literacy project that serves 17 prison libraries and classrooms in California.

Filed under: Commentary, State Education Policy, Testing and Accountability

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12 Responses to “Testing bill would dim the light on state’s most vulnerable students”

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  1. David B. Cohen on October 1, 2013 at 12:31 am10/1/2013 12:31 am

    • 000

    It’s truly hard to fathom why the ranks of “edreform” are rallying around this issue. There’s a disconnect between teaching and testing that makes the results of these tests invalid. Period. They were never any good for individual student diagnoses anyways – partly because they’re poorly designed, partly because they ask so few questions about any given standard and don’t even cover all the standards, and partly because the results don’t come back in time anyways. With this bill, we can save millions of dollars, and for once make teachers and schools lives just slightly easier, and aid the CCSS transition (if you think that’s a good thing). If any reasonably experienced teacher says they really *need* CST results to help them teach their students the skills described in state standards, then that teacher is under-informed about the practical limits of CSTs, or insincere. Seeing the coordinated attack on the bill, I have to believe it’s the latter. And that the insincerity is really about generating the test scores necessary to perpetuate some other bad ideas, like NCLB sanctions, parent-trigger eligibility determination, and value-added measures for teacher evaluations. And of course, the more those policies are in use, the more opportunity there is to destabilize public schools and teachers.

  2. Santa Madre on September 26, 2013 at 12:40 pm09/26/2013 12:40 pm

    • 000

    Ama doesn’t teach any more, and it is unclear for how long she did teach. She obviously did not stay in the profession for more than 5 years, which is the normal attrition length for those who decide that teaching is not for them.

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    • el on September 26, 2013 at 3:50 pm09/26/2013 3:50 pm

      • 000

      Ah. When the organization was described as teacher-led I assumed it meant by someone actually in the classroom. Next time I’ll google.

      However, I really didn’t appreciate Richard Moore’s … let’s say, “gender-specific” … response, which colored what I chose to write. When he replies to writing from Bill Gates with “poor dear,” I’ll retract my comment.

  3. Manuel on September 25, 2013 at 11:01 pm09/25/2013 11:01 pm

    • 000

    Sigh…

    At the risk of piling on, I have to state that to advocate for the standardized tests used by mandate of the 1999 PSAA and 2001 NCLB as tools to determine whether a child is not a candidate for repeating a grade is ludicrous. And shameful.

    Educators for Excellence is a New York corporation under the jurisdiction of Delaware (!!!) that maintains an office in downtown Los Angeles. What is it doing in California? Is California in such dire need of intervention that it is more important, than, say, Texas or Louisiana? To me, they are carpetbaggers.

  4. Gary Ravani on September 25, 2013 at 5:23 pm09/25/2013 5:23 pm

    • 000

    The “states most vulnerable students” can be referred for special education testing which is done using individual tests administered (typically) by a school psychologist. These are very refined and specialized tests. Any data you get form state tests is far too crude to diagnose special learning problems. In fact, it’s so crude the state is spending over a billion dollars to get more refined student achievement data from new assessments. As Mr. Moore (above) points out, any really experienced teacher can ascertain a student’s academic needs using any number of classroom performance assessments.

    Just what is supposed to be learned about students by giving them tests on content they are no longer being taught?

    To what extent is the Gate’s money going to “Educators for Excellence” having an effect on the agenda here? A simple google search of this organization will show the “Billionaire’s Boys Club” up to their usual antics as well as the usual teacher union bashing. Follow the money.

    Please. Let’s not be silly.

  5. el on September 25, 2013 at 2:22 pm09/25/2013 2:22 pm

    • 000

    I really appreciate your story, Ama.

    Let’s assume the bill does pass. As an educator, with experience at your school, what will you recommend your school do to get equivalent information to parents about the progress of students in your classroom and in your school? What tools would you use, and when would you apply them?

    Replies

    • Ama Nyamekye on September 25, 2013 at 9:16 pm09/25/2013 9:16 pm

      • 000

      Great question! I now work with educators, and have been posing this very question. Some suggest using a pre-assessment and a post-assessment to try and measure growth in that course from beginning to end of the school year. Other teachers note that this will be challenging because…Unless all teachers use the same high-quality school-determined assessments, you’ll have very different levels of assessment implementation and rigor, which will muddy the information for students, teachers and parents. You’ll also not be able to ensure consistent rigor and implementation across schools.

      What do you suggest? Thanks for the thoughtful question.

      • TheMorrigan on September 27, 2013 at 5:58 am09/27/2013 5:58 am

        • 000

        Most schools already give common formative and summative assessments. In addition, most districts in the state of CA give summative trimester/quarter benchmarks. While these assessments may not have a Pearson or ETS stamp of approval on them, from the scattering that I have seen, they are fairly close in style, rigor, and measurement to the CSTs. The districts and teachers made them that way to give them actionable data to move on before CST testing.

        We will still screen in Kindergarten and first grade. We will still administer common assessments. Cognitive testing for learning disabilities will not stop. Annual GATE testing will continue on. We will continue to administer these assessments because it is the right thing to do. And it helps teachers shine a “light on our state’s most vulnerable students” (it is a mistake to think that the CSTs are the ONLY way to do that).

        It would suspend belief to suggest that we will not use these assessments anymore because we are no longer administering the CSTs. If anything, AB 484 will create a needed window of opportunity. It will create a window for teachers, schools and districts to create better assessments that are modeled after the CCSS. While the standards are mostly similar, how they will be tested is NOT.

  6. Richard Moore on September 25, 2013 at 12:26 pm09/25/2013 12:26 pm

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    Poor dear. Being used by Pearson to shill for the Testing Biz. Of course the test she was given bore no resemblance to the tests being eliminated. It was an individual diagnostic tool, not a hatchet for separating the wheat from the chaff. She uses diagnostic tools constantly in the classroom, as every teacher does, and will continue to do. Now she will have more time to teach, rather than wasting time cramming the kids full of factoids the test wants to see, which test, by the way, won’t be here next year anyway so . . . what the . . . ?

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    • Ama Nyamekye on September 25, 2013 at 9:07 pm09/25/2013 9:07 pm

      • 000

      Thanks for your message. Let me answer your questions. So, the test was actually a state standardized test. I’m sure it was far from perfect, but it certainly revealed information that was helpful. In terms of teaching, I used a range of assessments to measure growth. Yes, my students actually grew and excelled based on the state assessment, but they also grew in their ability to write research papers, art critiques, short stories, speeches.

  7. navigio on September 25, 2013 at 11:23 am09/25/2013 11:23 am

    • 000

    Awesome story Ama.

    The irony is that it is these very tests which helped to create the stereotypes that almost held you back. It is very sad to see a real example of teachers and school leaders treating children differently based on superficial traits. I truly hope those people were fired. If you continue to see more of that even today, I hope you will choose to speak up. There is much circumstantial evidence that this still exists, yet no causal proof.

    I do absolutely agree with you that whenever transparency fades, it is the most disadvantaged who suffer the most, though we might disagree on how transparent our current CST system actually is. Regardless, I know that you have other metrics besides the CST to evaluate the abilities of your students and I expect none of those will go away.

    thank you for your article.

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    • Ama Nyamekye on September 25, 2013 at 8:38 pm09/25/2013 8:38 pm

      • 000

      Thank you for your message Navigio. I’m excited for much-needed improvements in testing and assessment tools and truly believe that no one test or assessment in isolation portrays a nuanced picture. Given the incredibly challenging nature of teaching, we need all the information and tools available, even as we work to improve these instruments.

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