After a brief introduction about the beginning of the Biden administration and the new President's appointments to run the US Department of Education, Leonie spoke with Akil Bello, Senior Director of Advocacy of the national organization FairTest, Lisa Rudley, Executive Director of NY State Allies for Public Education and President of the Ossining School Board and Jeanette Deutermann, who leads Long Island Opt out. They discussed the campaigns here in NY State and nationally to urge the US Department of Education to provide waivers to states so they could cancel the administration of the federally-mandated 3rd through 8th grade exams this spring, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. She also spoke with Akil about the controversial NYC gifted exams, and the perplexing decision of NYC Mayor de Blaio and Chancellor Carranza to administer these exams again this spring, to children as young as four years old, perhaps for the last time. We also discussed the highly flawed record of Pearson, the corporation that produces these exams.
The contract with Pearson to renew their contract for the gifted exam is to be voted upon on January 27 by the Panel for Education Policy; people who would like to speak on this contract can register here, starting at 5:30 PM.
NYSAPE petition urging the State Commissioner to cancel the Regents high school exit exams and to ask the US Department of Education for a waiver from having to administer the 3rd-8th grade exams this spring.
FairTest petition to the US Department of Education and State education policymakers to suspend all high stakes testing this year.
Fact sheet on what’s wrong with the Regents graduation exit exams.
Standardized Testing, COVID-19, and Opting Out
Transcript of “Talk out of School” podcast on Jan. 20, 2021
Leonie Haimson with Akil Bello, Senior Director of Advocacy of FairTest, Lisa Rudley, Executive Director of New York State Allies for Public Education, and Jeanette Deutermann, founder of Long Island Opt-out
Leonie Haimson (host)
Hello everyone, my name is Leonie Haimson. Welcome to our show, Talk Out of School on WBAI Radio 99.5 FM and WBAI.org, where we focus on issues affecting public schools here in New York City, the state level and nationally. Our show is also available for download as a podcast. Today is truly a historic day January 20, 2021 is the last day of the Trump presidency, and the first day of the Biden presidency.
Joe Biden will be inaugurated about 11am. Under Donald Trump we had an awful Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who had no credentials for the job except that she gave a lot of money to the Republican Party. She was more intent on privatizing our public schools than supporting them. From all accounts, Miguel Cardona, the Connecticut superintendent of Connecticut schools, who has been appointed by Joe Biden, will be far better with years of experience as a teacher, principal, administrator. This week it was also announced that Cindy Marten, the current Superintendent of San Diego schools, will be his deputy.
She too has years of experience as a teacher and a principal and I've heard great things about her very progressive record in San Diego, and I know she's a fervent supporter of equity and smaller classes, even in the years when there was a massive disinformation campaign against that necessary reform by Arne Duncan and Bill Gates.
But now I'll turn to some local news. Last week, Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza said that they will administer the controversial and problematic tests for admissions to gifted classes this spring, perhaps the final year, and will spend the following year engaging communities around what kind of programming they would like to see that's more inclusive and enriching for all students. Yet the question arises as to why they would continue to give these exams at all.
New York City is one of very few districts in the nation to give an exam like this to children as young as four years old, which few believe is valid or reliable. Why not end the practice now, especially given the risks and considerable cost of administering this test, during a pandemic? At the same time, many teachers, parents, and advocates across the state and the nation are also pushing for cancellation of the federally mandated third through eighth grade exams this spring. They were canceled last spring because of the pandemic, but we need them to be canceled again, many say.
My guests this week are Akil Bello, Senior Director of Advocacy of the national organization, FairTest. Lisa Rudley, Executive Director of New York State Allies for Public Education, and Jeanette Deutermann, who leads Long Island Opt-out. I'll ask them to talk about their campaigns here in New York state and across the country to urge the US Department of Education to cancel the third through eighth grade exams this spring. First, I'd like to talk to Akil though about the gifted exams, and the decision of the mayor and Chancellor to give them again this year Akil. Thank you so much for being here today.
Thanks for having me and happy Inauguration Day.
Yes, that's a big relief on all of our minds I'm sure. Now many people have critiqued New York City's gifted program over the years, including in 2007 when Joel Klein first instituted a standardized high-stakes testing process for admissions to give two classes in the supposed name of equity. That year, Debbie Meier, famed educator, wrote, they're using two instruments we know for a fact provide racially biased results is the data that the canards about racial inferiority are based on, and comes with a history of bias, both class and race. Furthermore, we know that psychometricians have unanimously warned us for years, about the lack of reliability of standardized tests for children under seven.
Akil, can you talk a little bit about the two tests DOE uses for this purpose, and what your view is their reliability and or validity?
Sure. So first of all, the entire concept of gifted and talented is very bizarre because all 50 states essentially have their own definition of what constitutes gifted and talented. The gifted part is supposed to mean precocious, which one, is just very strange to say, if you are precocious, we will reward you forever. Right, think about that in terms of your children. We all went to the doctor and had those benchmark exams. So if your child is big for their age, therefore, let's put them on the pathway to the NFL and everybody else at, you know, six months 12 months is not on that pathway.
So it's a very bizarre way to conceive of testing and education to think that this one-time indicator is determinative forever. There's actually research studies that show that students who test gifted quote unquote one year, may not be that in the future the next year, even. So there's a lot of questions around the very concept of gifted testing. Then if you even take the talented portion of that that doesn't actually exist so calling a gifted and talented to be good with is a misnomer because no talent is measured whatsoever in this process.
So, there is a strange naming that happens in all of this, and the two tests the city uses for gifted testing the OLSAT and the NNAT, one, part of the process that's problematic is there's not a lot of publicly available information. As far as I can tell, New York City is using a portion of the NNAT. They're actually not even using the full part of it, as far as I can tell from what they've published, they're only using 30 of what shouldn't be 40 or 60 questions. So they're using a piece of a test, so there can't be validity if you're actually not using the actual instrument. Right.
Also, what is it supposed to predict? Validity should speak to how well it predicts what it's supposed to do. And there's no research study that shows what these tests are supposed to predict for New York City kids, so it's problematic in a lot of ways around what it's intended to do, what it actually does, what biases it implements. You know, they discourage test prep, but we all know that exists. There are entire companies built around Test Prep for the gifted and talented. So, you know, the, the use of the test in a normal time is a problem. The use of the test during the pandemic is hugely problematic.
So there are companies which charge $400 an hour to test prep four-year-olds which obviously leads to a lot of disparities in the results. Can you talk about the racial disparities in the results of the gifted test in New York City?
Most standardized tests have demographic and racial disparities in their outcomes for a number of reasons. Test prep is a huge part of it. You know, if you have the funds to hire a coach, if you have money to hire more experienced, more well-resourced coaches, you're generally going to do better. So preparing your kids for the type of items that are on the test that they may have never seen before. Nobody has your kindergartner out there doing you know spatial recognition and spatial reasoning, unless you're thinking about these tests.
So, part of the issues test prep is going to exacerbate all things related to income, which overlaps, it's not the same but it overlaps, highly demographic outcomes. There also was a great report from Chalkbeat on the different perceptions of gifted testing. White families generally feel it's good parenting to do all the stuff to prep. Black and Latinx families generally think that since it's gifted, they should test and perform without any preparation, so they go into the test with very different points of view. The number of times they repeat tests is very different. And that leads to very disparate outcomes.
That's fascinating, I didn't know that. Here in New York City, just to give the data, Asian students account for 43% of the gifted students, quote unquote gifted in New York City, followed by whites at 36%. Latinos at a percent and Black students that only 6%, so you can see how incredibly disparate those results are. Then there's also the cost of these exams. The DOE is proposing to renew them for another year from Pearson at a cost of $1.7 million. And my question is, doesn't the City have anything better to do with these funds? We are experiencing an economic crisis, huge budget cuts to schools. Class sizes, the remote class sizes we're experiencing right now, or students are experiencing, including special-needs students, are up to 60 students per class or more.
A lot of school budgets may be cut next year because of enrollment decline. Why are we doing this? Why do we want to spend another $1.7 million on these tests, and that doesn't even include the cost of administering them, which for young kids takes an hour of one-on one-time by New York City teachers who are paid extra to do that.
It's the same with all the tests, all the high stakes tests that are being used to sort students. Those who have succeeded on test value them. Right, that's generally what happens. Those who are in power value the test because the test in some way enables them to get there, so they don't want to give up that power and privilege of, "let's use this test that is probably going to do fairly well for my child," even though it may not be a good or useful tool. And I think that's what you see across the line, the specialized High School exam, you know the gifted testing, there is a every association of psychometric psychological testing have actually come together and issued guidelines around testing. They all say don't use a single test as to make high stakes decisions. New York City has violated that in a number of ways and spent a lot of money doing it. Pearson actually used to have on their website, a statement that said basically don't use high stakes test as a single point of decision making.
Yeah, I think that's the resolution passed by the American Psychological Association, the American Educational Research Association, and many other professional organizations have had as their foremost principle that no high stakes decision should ever be based upon a single standardized test, and yet this happens over and over in New York City. Can you talk a little bit about the record of Pearson across the country, but especially in New York State and New York City, in terms of their extremely spotty record?
Oh, my. Pearson. Pearson, is the behemoth, and is the worst of the bunch it seems. I'll actually do a Twitter thread later on all the Pearson madness. But Pearson has a long history of messing up. Mis-scoring tests. I don't know how many people remember but if you just Google, "the pineapple at New York City state test." There was some ridiculous reading comp passage put on the New York State seventh grade test that eighth author, it was the eighth grade, the author of the passage, Ashley said "I write nonsense literature. There's no reason for anyone to ever use this for a test."
I actually am going to take a little credit because I was the first person to expose the pineapple question on my blog, New York City Public School Parents. I was getting emails from students who were talking about how crazy this this passage was, and I was finding Facebook pages that had been made by students in the past that actually had this whole passage, which was incomprehensible about a race between a pineapple and a hare, had been on standardized tests of six states and even more districts in the past. And it caused so much stress among students that it had its own Facebook page, and that Pearson had done nothing to take it off the test.
My son happened to be in eighth grade, and had just taken the test and came home with his friend as I was reading about this and I said, "do you remember was there a passage about a pineapple?" And he said yeah it was ridiculous I didn't even understand what it was. So I put it on my blog, and the Daily News picked it up, and it soon became a national symbol of how ridiculous and absurd standardized tests can be. Then [NY State] commissioner, John King, took it off the test. Pearson made all sorts of excuses including that no one had ever complained about it before, which would have been documented as false because it was all over the web for years, how ridiculous this passage was so...
That's part of the problem. There's there's very little oversight and accountability, especially when test makers don't release questions after the fact. You know, there's no way to go in and actually verify that the gifted and talented tests are in English. Like we don't know what happens in the room when all of these things have happened. So, I mean, SAT every year has tested questions they remove. Every single standardized test of problematic items every year. The only question is the volume. Pearson has a history. That means, I couldn't, I wouldn't trust them with anything.
They have a history of messing things up that is really well documented. There was a lawsuit. I believe they settled a case in 2013 for $77 million with New York State. There was a big suit in Texas. And I believe they almost ran a professor out of his job at UT Austin who pointed out problems with their exams. So Houston is a huge conglomerate that has a notorious record of poor test design and putting money behind protecting their products.
I'd just like to point out in 2013, they mis-scored the gifted test, and have for 1000s of children. At that point the DOE said they were reconsidering whether to cancel the contract that was in 2013. Just in 2018 there was a huge breach of Pearson assessment scores and students’ names across the country, exposing data for hundreds of thousands of students. Pearson had found out about this from the FBI months before they told any district about it. That was the Aimsweb breach, and they just over and over, they're, they're huge mistakes, all of which, by the way, the DOE leaves out of the contract document proposal that they give to the Panel for Educational Policy.
I don't know why all those things that happened here in New York state are admitted from their account, but perhaps they want people to forget about them. The contract is going to be voted on by the Panel for Educational Policy on January 27. I'm going to leave in the resources part of the podcast and on the WBAI website, a link so people can sign up to speak if they think that this contract should not be renewed.
But now I'd like to bring in two more guests, both good friends of mine, Lisa Rudley of New York State Allies for Education, also known as NYSAPE, as she's the executive director. She's also a school board president in Ossining, New York, and Jeanette Deutermann, who's one of the cofounders of NYSAPE, and head of Long Island Opt-out. Lisa and Jeanette so glad you could join us.
Thank you. Thank you for having us Leonie, really glad to be here.
Jeanette. Thank you for being here. Can you talk a little bit about when and why Long Island Opt-out was formed?
Sure, my older son was in third grade during the perfect storm as they now describe it of Common Core coming in and the testing and tying to teacher evaluations. And in third grade, unbeknownst to me, my son, you know, went through the year I was a little skeptical about why this test was suddenly a big deal. I'd never heard of an elementary school test being like the end all be all of their entire career. And he sat for the test after the test was done, I was very nervous like what does this mean, what if he doesn't do well, and I was talking to teachers and they were all saying we don't know either, we have no idea really what's on it we don't know what's going on we don't know what how this is going to affect anybody.
So here all this focus was on this test he took it, and nothing happened. I got a score back in the mail I had no idea what it meant. I then they said he was like, you know, on this average, you know, on a one to four high to low three whatever and I said, I don't understand what this means, and they said neither do we. The following year, his, I said to his teacher now, you know, what does this mean for you. Does this score that he got change anything? And he said it means nothing to me either. I don't know what to do with this, we're not doing anything with it. And I thought that was insane, that these kids have been you know so heavily focused on this test, and everyone is in such fear over this test and yet the result meant nothing. It didn't help him, didn't help the teacher, didn't do anything to improve any kind of education for my son, and I started paying a little more attention.
That following year, again, there was so much focus, everyone was talking about the teachers were a wreck, they started eliminating things in their classrooms, all the extras that they did. We had had a teacher who, who always did a play, and they focused on this for you know weeks, and had to eliminate it because now they had a timeline to get ready for the state assessments coming up. So all those extras all those, you know, letting the students find their passions and steering them towards that seemed to be eliminated. They were being eliminated in all these classrooms because of the assessments and it was just a visceral reaction of that's not, no way. This doesn't make sense and taking you know some more deep dives and talking to educators, I realized that there was something really wrong going on, and no one was really talking about it. The teachers all seemed afraid to talk about it.
So I started researching, raising awareness. I started a Facebook group and parents just flocked to this group it grew by thousands. You know every week there was a few more thousand people. So it seemed to everybody and all the parents had the exact same experiences, their kids were losing interest in school they were upset they were not enjoying being there that everything that was changing in the classroom was not to the better of the students, and that's how this sort of this whole movement started growing we realized there was a mechanism we could use by opting out of the state assessments.
You know it wasn't just important to save our own individual child from having to sit for those, you know, at the time it was eight hours, ten hours, you know it was days and days and two weeks long and. But we also realized that through opting out we could actually effect changes in policy too because it became so big so fast that we started getting noticed by politicians by policymakers. And we did it.
We had a huge team across the whole state of different leaders cropping up everywhere and leading the same type of groups that we did here on Long Island, and, you know, we created a network, and that's actually how NYSAPE was born, that leaders from all over New York State sort of got together and started coordinating their efforts. And, you know, Lisa can talk a little more about NYSAPE, but you know we recognized that numbers can be counted. And when you can count numbers like that when you can say exactly how many parents opted out, that counting of those numbers was extremely powerful. And it became sort of a thing every year that it just kept growing and growing until you know we had 20% of kids opting out of the state assessments, which is massive.
So I remember you once testifying about how your child you experienced the transformation of his education; that you used to have boxes of his projects and his writing, and his drawings, and then all of a sudden, it was just worksheets that were coming home and you, there was nothing to save. Nothing to save with his childhood schooling.
I just want to also make the point that all of this was driven from above by essentially Arnie Duncan in the Obama Administration with Race to the Top that states were supposed to sign on for these new standardized tests that would be much higher quality supposedly, and much higher standards and schools and teachers lives, and evaluations were dependent upon doing well on these tests.
Schools could be closed; teachers could be fired. Our Governor Cuomo was very avid and very passionate about the idea that teachers should be evaluated primarily on the basis of these exam results which, you know, no expert in statistics thought was a valid way to evaluate teachers, but that was what was happening across the state because of Race to the Top, because of the big push towards quote unquote "accountability." Lisa, can you tell us a little bit about how NYSAPE formed?
Yeah, as Jeanette shared, a lot of us as parents became aware of the difficulties and the issues with the testing and Leonie as you shared with the Common Core Standards coming in and the state tests being tied to the new standards, the grade level was a lot different. The grade level and the appropriateness of the standards were a lot higher. And so for example if you had one, my child in fifth grade, his special education needs, all of a sudden, the gap became even bigger, and the difficulty in those tests and so we all came together as leaders around the state about over 70 groups. At the time of 50 groups about seven years ago, now over 70 groups.
And we said we need to do something together we had from all corners of New York State came together and created a website figured out the mechanism in which to share the information with parents make them aware that they can opt out of the tests. And NYSAPE was formed in July of 2013 in a meeting that we had in Central New York in Syracuse. And one of the other big issues that the Race of the Top brought in was the data collection, and the data privacy issues, and the tests we use to collect this data. And thank you to Leonie and many others in the state and across the country who were able to stop InBloom and the collection of data. And that's how NYSAPE was formed.
So InBloom, just for our listeners' sake, was this massive database that was going to be created by the Gates Foundation with more than $100 million, a private corporation that they spun off that a number of states and districts had signed on to, including New York State. And that was when we became interested in the issue of privacy because it was supposed to collect the most intimate details of students' lives including their disciplinary records, their medical records etc., etc., with no notification to parents or their consent.
And we fought against it here in New York and others fought against it across the country and InBloom did finally close its doors in 2014, New York State was the last state to pull out. So, Jeanette, can you explain why NYSAPE is campaigning now for the New York State Education Department to ask for a waiver for the federally mandated third through eighth grade exams for this spring. Why given the pandemic is this more important now than ever?
Right. So, we have different sets of standardized testing in New York. Some are state led, and some are federal requirements. So the federal required tests are the three through eight assessments, the science test in in fourth grade, and in eighth grade. ESSA also requires math and English to be given in high school at one point during their high school years. So, we have this whole set of assessments, and in, even in a good year, in a normal quote "normal school year" these assessments are problematic for all the reasons that we've been talking about. On a year like this, when you look at this, it's first of all, you have to look at first of all why give a standardized assessment. Okay you want to look and measure across the board. Everybody in the same way, we're going to measure this year is end last year, or anything, but standardized there is no standardization for anything this year. You have some kids that haven't stepped foot in a classroom, you have some kids that have been in the classroom the entire year so far. Some kids have never been in front of a live teacher, other kids have had their teachers in their classrooms every day. Some kids haven't even had access to Wi Fi, have no access to, to an iPad or a or a Chromebook or any device to be able to log in.
You have all these inequities, but yet we're going to say we're going to hand these kids standardized tests that everyone takes and still use those same tests for the things that we've always used which is ranking and sorting, you know who's doing the job they're supposed to do. Nobody's able to do any job this year, so to say that we're going to give this test and then use that for the purposes we use it for. And if they say well, we're not going to use it for that purpose well then why give it? You know why would you then give it if we can't measure anything and make a prediction for anything? Why would you subject schools to be focused?
And the problem is not even just the day of testing and even giving a test like. So now you know take the logistic issue away just even the fact that they would be focusing on something like this and doing the test prep and all the stuff that comes along with preparing a kid for these high stakes tests that have effects on their graduation. We're talking about the New York State Regents. GPAs their graduation that goes to college prospects. To say that we're going to keep these high stakes decisions you know focused on a test like this in a year where, again, there is there is no way to properly prepare kids for something that high stakes is crazy. And then, you know, so when we say that the federal government needs to...We're looking for two things for New York State to suspend the Regents which are New York State led. In other words the Regents can suspend those immediately and offer graduation waivers.
And then you have the federal government which requires three through eight [grade] testing, we would need to get a waiver for from the federal government for the ESSA requirements to be able to eliminate the three through eight tests this year. And you know what we can fall back on is if the federal government refuses to offer waivers which we're still not sure where what direction they're going to go, then we will be asking the New York State Regents and the New York State Education Department to remind parents that they do have that option to refuse to have their children participate in the tests. So even if our hands are tied and they have to be administered, parents need to understand that they do not have to have their children participate.
So thank you for that. I think the State Teachers Union in New York, NYSUT, came out with a letter to the commissioner, Dr. Betty Rosa, this week saying that they think the test should be canceled, and it would put inordinate stress on both students and teachers in a very difficult time.
Akil, FairTest is helping to lead a national campaign to persuade the US Department of Education to provide these waivers when states asked for them as they did last spring. Can you explain why you feel this is important and what you would say to proponents of the test, who argue that we need to administer these exams to see how much learning loss has occurred this year?
So Jeanette explained it really quite eloquently, the difference between state and federal requirements, and the need for a national campaign to address the federal requirements of testing. Any notion of getting good data from a standardized test issue is just insane. There's just no way you're getting good data. The notion of learning loss is also somewhat interesting. Just that somehow, we're going to be able to administer a standardized exam in order to quantify how much different districts, different schools, different students, have lost during the pandemic.
One, thinking of New York City and the variety of experiences in New York City, you know, there's students on the Upper East Side who did go to school buildings, but it's 25% of New York City students I believe who are in school buildings. So how are you a person logistically how are we going to administer the test, to ask a district in any district in this country, to try to navigate the logistics of administering a standardized test, simply to satisfy this federal waiver and to try to satisfy certain economists or academics who wants to think they can measure learning loss, which there's debate around what that phrase actually means because, as far as I can track it down, it's a testing agency who basically is measuring expected growth on a test versus actual growth on a test over summer, and that's where that term sort of originated.
So, we can pretty much say we know that, especially low-income underprivileged kids, especially kids in communities that had very disjointed educational experiences this last year, they're going to have really bad test scores this year. How specific and granular do you need that information to be? And will any data collected be of actual use. So, it seems to make it makes sense that, even in a normal year where we have lots of questions around the validity of these tests of the usefulness of these tests, to add that to the past year, and to try to say we're going to be able to assess something is just not very reasonable. And so it makes sense with a new incoming administration to just relieve the stress, and the added pressure to every school district by saying we're going to universally waive these requirements and let you figure out supporting students through this process without the added federal pressure of, "no, you need to deliver these exams."
And you know, I just want to jump in that that is the ultimate issue with all of these tests every single year. We're measuring and measuring and taking temperatures, but what do we do with that information. Do we ever actually come in and help students or schools that show that they're struggling? Usually it's about resources. So, so okay if you want to tell me that once these tests are given anyone who scores poorly is going to have an influx of resources, we're going to lower class sizes for those kids, we're going to make sure that they have everything they need that they've been lacking. And then I would say, okay, if that's what's needed to give them what they need, go for it. But you know what we do it every year, we keep taking temperatures there's fevers everywhere, and yet we do nothing. We do nothing about it except say okay now we're going to measure it again. One thing we actually do: we punish. We take these test scores, and we say okay, that's who needs to be punished. They're going to close them, they're going to punish them, they're going to put them on a list. Now they're going to be labeled as bad. So we're doing all this for what, what is the point of this?
And to your earlier point with both what started you in this process, or what Lisa was speaking to a little bit, is on a fine, what you're saying is like let's reward on a district level, right, but at a family level how does that help me? Because and there's lots of research that says as standardized tests have some moderate usefulness in large scale prediction. Maybe we can say what school, what district is doing better than others, moderately maybe we will just let that go for now. Right. But as a parent, I want to know how my kid is doing. Why can't I get the test booklet back? Why can't I get data back? The teacher in the classroom gets data and nine months later, they can't help your child who's moved on to another class. And we have the technology resources to do this. I'd rather that money be spent in developing a parent portal so that if my child takes the test, I want to I want to see what they missed. And that information is not so large scale or small, the positive action items from administering these tests don't exist. So why administer them?
Yeah, and I'll add that, you know that test prep that goes into it, and that's why we're asking for these waivers and these cancellations of the regions to happen now because the test prep and the resources, and you're right Akil, the effort that goes into it is immense. And also, it's important to point out that in New York, the tests used to be the third through eighth grade tests. It used to be fourth and eighth grade tests. They're about an hour long for the math and the LA part and the science, and now they're over three hours four hours and for a special education student, and anyone who gets accommodations, time and a half. The hours spent on the day and the prep and the resources when the schools alone can be using these resources to more important things. And listen we're halfway through the school year right now. Our teachers and staff or are figuring out how are they going to give those tests, and I want to point out if we were to do that online, the requirement of spyware that would have to be put on your computers. We know that this type of software is discriminatory and biased, and it just would be a complete mess to do that in New York.
Yeah, I just wanted to make the point also that our former Commissioner took off all the timing of the test which she thought would be an improvement, but it what it meant is for a lot of kids who were struggling as they would spend eight hours a day, sometimes with lunch, sometimes without lunch, trying to answer these questions, and kids were breaking down in tears, having accidents, becoming incredibly stressed out.
And in New York City, it's not just the test prep which sometimes go on for weeks, especially in our low-income schools where the teachers are very worried about their jobs, and the schools are very worried about being closed down, but also to score the tests, the classroom teachers are then taken out of the classroom for weeks afterwards. So it really is a huge disruption of the education that goes on, even in a normal time. Now I can't really imagine what it would be like this spring. I think the Commissioner has said that there's not going to be tests given remotely. That was a huge concern as Lisa mentioned because it would require surveillance software to be put on all the kids home computers which have been found to be very faulty, and as Lisa said even discriminatory in the way that they quote unquote detect cheating.
But if they're not going to be given remotely what does that mean? Does that mean the hundreds of thousands and millions of students who are now learning remotely, in part because it's not safe to be in school and we don't have the space for social distancing, would have to return to school to be possibly exposed to COVID to take these tests. What has the Commissioner actually said about this because I must admit I'm confused about whether there is there will be an option to take these tests remotely or not. Does anyone know?
All I know is that they did cite that in sort of the arguments to the federal government that they're going to be submitting to request this waiver. One of the things that they cited was that we are incapable of giving these assessments remotely. So I don't know if there is a plan B. I haven't heard whether you know they're going to come up with some other way to do this, if the federal government will not grant these waivers. I think they're just kind of waiting to see first what they're going to hear before they then have to come up with some other grand plan of how we would actually pull that off.
And speaking of privacy, Questar, who's the state contractor for the testing, also has a very faulty history. We did have breaches from Questar data a couple years ago, and they were giving some students the test online in school, and there were huge technical glitches as well so there's a there's a real question whether they have the technological capability, even to deal with the hundreds of thousands, even millions, of students who would be taking these tests online.
Questar was, I believe, they were dropped as the vendor for several states before New York contracted with them. And after. So yeah, they have, they're almost as bad, if not worse, than Pearson in their record of problems, across the country.
Maybe the price was right.
Questar was supposed to have its contract lapse last year, by the way, and the state had already put out an RFP for a new contract, but because the tests were cancelled last year, they extended it for another year. So Questar also has a very, very poor history in New York state and across the country. I think we may try to get take a few questions if that's okay from callers. Listeners, if you have any questions for my guests or thoughts about these tests, please give us a call at 212-209-2877, that's 212-209-2877.
Akil, I'd like to ask you about the Regents Exams. New York State is one of the very few states in the country that still has any exit exams for high school, which means exams that students have to pass to graduate with a high school diploma. More and more states that had these exams have been dropping them for various reasons. I think New York State may have the highest number of any state in the country, and the Board of Regents were engaged in a community input process before the pandemic hit, trying to hear from stakeholder groups about whether to change these requirements and afford children alternate pathways to graduation. Why do you think so many states have actually dropped out of giving exit exams at this point?
Why is a tough question? I think that, you know, what you have is you have, I think a lot of it's politics. Right, I think that that's one of the unfortunate things in the country is that politics over education. Almost every single time in so many different educational arenas, politics rules today. Some states are shifting from their own exit exams to SAT and ACT as exit exams, right, arguing that they get a double dip in terms of its college admissions and high school exit at the same time. Some are simply dropping them or changing those waivers. Every year they shift slightly. I don't remember the last number. The last number in my head has actually, I tend to look at the standardized testing a little bit more rather than the extra testing. I know at last check for me, I think it was 13 states required the SAT as an exit exam.
But not to have to pass it to graduate. Just a high school mandated exam I believe
The exit exam policies blur the line, as to do you actually need it to walk out the door. There's lots of places that require it, but they don't tell you what the penalty is for not reaching the requirement. Or you have to, you know, dig, and it changes every year. So just like in New York State Regents right, there are five pathways to graduation. If you don't pass all those like there's lots of different pathways, which is very bizarre in terms of, do you need it to pass or can you get around it. The problem I find with most of the tests is that very ambiguity around how do I graduate, how many tests do I need to take what score do I need, what value is it to doing these things. And spending hours and hours and hours focusing on this one test as my way out of high school. Right, New York State is unique in its use of Regents in high schools, it's definitely more than most other states in the volume of testing that they've said is a requirement to graduate. But why it has held on for so long when other states have changed that is a mystery.
Now add to that the problem with the Regents, New York City does not, I believe, not every single school, but most schools in New York City do not factor any of the region's scores into their GPA. Outside of New York City, most suburban or at most districts outside New York City, do factor in the Regents grade, up to 20% into so you take chemistry, and almost a quarter, you know, it counts as a whole, quarter of your grade factored into what your GPA is. So it's a double hit, they've even raised the stakes significantly more because you know you could pass the class, and then end up failing the class for the year. On top of failing the Regents, so you have you have multiple sorts of things that can think cause a problem for you to graduate. So not only do you not have the Regents passing, but you also could fail the actual class, due to that score.
So I've looked at looked at the research pretty carefully on high school exit exams, and one of the things that even the more conservative think tanks in DC have pointed out is that contrary to the reason that a lot of these states did give these exams, initially, which was supposedly to raise student achievement, the states that have these exams have no higher student achievement than those that don't. The biggest impact has been higher dropout rates and higher incarceration rates of those states that continue to give these exams. New York State continues to have very low graduation rates. They have not improved in many parts of the state in recent years.
I think we have the second lowest graduation rate for English language learners in the entire country. And I think contributing. that is the is the Regents exams. There are ways of getting around it for certain students. If you file certain appeals with certain district superintendents, but that's not used very much and it's a difficult process. And for kids with special needs, there are alternative types of diplomas that can be granted, but they don't have the same status and in fact they're rather stigmatizing. Do you want to talk a little bit about that Lisa?
Yeah, there was a group actually from Long Island that worked very closely with the Board of Regents to make sure that the students with disabilities can receive a local diploma. And there was, as Leonie said, a waiver process, the superintendent can go through. I wanted to add, I know we're running out a little bit of time, but I wanted to add that with the exit exams what did come before COVID was this discussion about graduation requirements in New York State. There were all those conversations happening around the state.
And I sat in on many of those meetings, and I was with educators, superintendents, teachers, students, and parents and what was discussed was that graduation requirements, which you know, what makes up a student you know from their whole educational journey, that the exit exams were not, while those classes are valuable, that wasn't driving graduation rates, and wasn't driving better outcomes. And I think those discussions which our hope is going to start again. But the idea of having multiple pathways and not having these high stakes exit exams because the dropout rate, you know, when the, the confidence level of a student, when they know that they have to come back a fifth year six year to pass multiple region exams, you're not going to see those students again. And as Leonie has pointed out the research shows that states are no better in achievement with these as exams, in fact worse. And that's something I'm hoping to see in New York State. In the next year to have more pathways that are, you know, going to work for our students, personally.
I just checked the number real quick. In 17-18, there were 13 states with a high school exit requirement.
I just want to make the point also that multiple pathways, I think is confusing. What most states do is if the kids pass their courses the required courses they graduate from high school. And that's what we should have here in New York rather than a very complicated system to navigate with many alternatives and many different credentials, which just make it much, much harder to figure out.
We have to draw this conversation to a close. I want to thank my guests tremendously for being here, and for the wonderful work that they've done. FairTest has a petition online, which I'm going to post on the resources of the podcast and on the WBAI site. I'm also going to post the NYSAPE petition urging the state Commissioner to ask for a waiver for the third through eighth grade test and immediately cancel the Regents exams. Thank you again Akil, Lisa, and Jeanette for the work that you do every single day.
This is Leonie Haimson, host of Talk Out of School on WBAI 99.5 FM Pacifica radio. I'm sorry we didn't get to our callers. Our show talk out of school is available as a podcast if you missed the live version. If you hear it through Apple podcasts, please leave a review. Also please consider becoming a WBAI buddy to Talk Out of School by logging into give to wbai.org or by calling 516-620-3602. I will be back next week with another episode of Talk out of School. Until then, be careful and be safe. Thank you so much for listening.