Susan Zeitler, Mom of Two and a Local Grass Roots Activist, Knows Exactly Why…
The original version was printed in the May 6th Edition of the Citizen News, serving Sherman and New Fairfield, Connecticut.
Article and Photo by Alicia Sakal
Invalid “experimental” testing with extremely high predetermined failure rates. Bill Gates and Microsoft. Pearson Publishing. Google. For-profit, corporate stakeholders set to make billions off education. Data mining. Federal Government control. Labeling children for life.
These powerful, negative words are only some of the reasons why 40% of Sherman School parents have refused their Grades 3 through 8 children from taking the new Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) exam. Dr. Michael Pascento, Sherman School Principal, confirmed this updated statistic last week.
For the parents who refused the SBAC test for their children at the Sherman School, they are far from alone in their opposition and are part of a growing movement across the Nation. The exact and current refusal rate percentage in Connecticut, and in other states, is unknown because the testing is not complete. However, several schools, towns and states across America continue to make the headlines with their high, preliminary opt-out numbers.
To illustrate, the New York State Allies for Public Education recently reported that “a record number of parents across the Empire State will again refuse to take part in Grades 3 through 8 testing this spring… The latest 2015 refusal total is 190,836 with 75% of Districts reporting.”
Critics deem that New York’s refusal numbers are much higher than other states, such as Connecticut, because New York is one year ahead with implementing Common Core and aligned testing. They also assert New York parents are more informed and have experienced firsthand the myriad of Common Core’s ill effects and are reacting in unprecedented numbers by refusing the test for their children.
Why is Sherman’s Refusal Rate So High?
Susan Zeitler – a Sherman resident and fulltime professional, wife, and mom of two daughters – can certainly tell you why there is a high 40% opt-out rate for Grades 3 through 8…
At the beginning of the interview she stated “one reason for Sherman’s high refusal rate relative to other Connecticut towns is that Dr. Michael Pascento and Mr. Don Fiftal, Superintendent, recognize and respect the parental right to refuse the test.”
She elaborated “many states and administrations across the country are deceptive about these rights. They have even tried to intimidate parents. This intimidation seems to cause parents to back off because they do not want to be perceived as making waves or they do not want to endure negative ramifications for their children and this can greatly limit refusal rates, unfortunately.”
Regarding Connecticut, Zeitler said “the State, in the form of a letter from the Department of Education, instructed schools to deny parental requests to “opt out”, up to three times, before saying their children can forego the test. Parents have the constitutional right to refuse the SBAC test and I’m grateful for the Sherman School Administration’s upstanding response.”
Another reason, perhaps even the main reason, why the Sherman School has a high refusal rate, might very well have something to do with Zeitler herself…
For someone who does not particularly enjoy the limelight or public speaking, one can hear her voice Common Core concerns at the Sherman Parent Teacher Organization (SPTO) and Board of Education (BoE) meetings. She also organizes educational information sessions and will drop everything in her already hectic schedule to speak with parents about why Common Core is detrimental.
Zeitler also takes pride in “helping to empower parents and communities so they can better advocate for students, teachers, and their public schools.” She shared how she has spent, literally, hundreds of hours researching Common Core and collaborates with a group of other concerned parents from New Fairfield and New Milford. “We are dedicated to bringing awareness about Common Core to the forefront within Sherman and surrounding communities. We have plenty of data to share with other parents about all the negative aspects of Common Core.”
According to Susan, a third reason why Sherman has a 40% refusal rate is because “many parents have taken matters into their own hands and have learned the ‘undisclosed’ truths about Common Core. It appears that the fortunate combination of a respectful Administration, a knowledgeable and persevering group, and a proactive public is the formula to Sherman’s large anti-Common Core / SBAC statement of refusal.”
What is Common Core?
Before trying to understand the particulars of why there is a high SBAC testing refusal rate, one should first understand what Common Core is all about because the premise of the SBAC test is to be “aligned” to the Common Core State Standards.
For starters, the Common Core Standards website defines Common Core as “a set of clear college-and career-ready standards for Kindergarten through Grade 12 in English language arts / literacy and mathematics. Common Core was “designed to ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to take credit bearing introductory courses in two- or four-year college programs or enter the workforce.”
Investors of Common Core, like Bill Gates who is its biggest financial supporter outside of Pearson, explain that the United States education system is flawed and test scores lag behind other countries. Their solution is a “transformation” of our education system. This means the new Common Core standards with aligned curriculum, and testing.
As for the development of the Common Core Standards, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Pearson Publishing Company, and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation were, in fact, some of the big non-government and non-education contributors.
Zeitler, and other critics, define Common Core as “a repackaged education agenda that is backed by Corporate America and the Federal Government who do not have the best interests of the American children in mind.” Opponents like Dr. Chris Tienken, Assistant Professor of Education Administration at Seton Hall, disagree with Gates and think that America happens to groom the best innovators in the world, and many countries want to be like us, not the other way around.”
Zeitler elaborated “proponents like to say Common Core is just a set of improved standards. This is not so. Mr. Gates said ‘we’ll only know if this effort has succeeded, when the curriculum and tests align to the standards’. David Coleman, Chief Architect for the Common Core of the English Language Arts Standards (ELA), stated ‘teachers will teach toward the test.’ These proponents seem to want to make Common Core appear to not affect the teacher’s choice in curriculum, but they are misleading. I actually feel it is futile to discuss the standards and whether they are good or not. The standards conversation is a smokescreen as I see it. Common Core is NOT about education at all. Common Core is about Federal Government control, removing our local representation, and Corporate America making billions off our children’s private data, tests, technology, the new aligned curriculum, etc…”
How does one become a local grass roots activist on a mission to stop Common Core? For Susan, she didn’t exactly wake up one morning and say “gee, I want to be an activist.”
In January of 2013, she learned the school was going to get a “very expensive computer testing system” in the coming year, but had no idea what that meant. Then, in June of 2013, she made the Common Core connection with the computer system. “A friend shared with me what Common Core was all about and how detrimental it was to our children’s education and to our country. This is when I made the connection; that very expensive computer testing system was the SBAC test,” she stated.
Zeitler then began to ask leaders in Sherman about Common Core. To her surprise, “nobody really knew much about it, although the schools had been transitioning to Common Core a few years prior. I think that school systems all across Connecticut ‘did what they were supposed to do’ and did not realize the full scope of how Common Core originated, its purpose, and what its outcome would be. Common Core was adopted by the majority of the States before Common Core was even written,” she said.
As Zeitler came across Common Core information online, such as documents and video and audio clips from experts, like Anita Hoge and Jonathan Pelto, she began to share her findings with the BoE and the Administration in the fall of 2013. Ever since, she provides Common Core information and legislative updates via email to Sherman and New Fairfield parents, teachers, and BoE members. In June of 2014, Zeitler and her team also organized a well-attended event that brought in local experts from across the State to speak at a Common Core Informational Presentation, and “this contributed to the larger number of informed citizens and the higher refusal rate percentage in Sherman,” she stated.
Why Refuse SBAC Testing?
When asked, what is the #1 reason why you refused to have your children take the SBAC Exam? Zeitler replied matter-of-factly “there is NO reason to take this experimental test. No research went into designing the test and it was written by non-educators.” To back this statement: Diane Ravitch, former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education, stated in her book, Reign of Error that the Common Core standards were never field-tested and that no one knows whether they will improve education.”
Zeitler continued to say “this was a corporate push to develop a compliant workforce and to make billions of dollars off education products and our children’s private data. The problem with education is poverty but there is no money in fixing poverty. However, there is money in testing, technology, the revamping of curriculum materials, etc.”
“There is also a predetermined 60% to 70% SBAC test failure rate and it is even higher; a 90% failure rate, for special education students,” she said. As for the failure rate for English language learners, it is also extremely high. The SmarterBalanced.org website publishes this kind of failure rate field test data. For instance, Grade 6 non-native English speaking children have a 95% failure rate.
“The actual cut scores, or failure rate, were approved by Connecticut and other States at a November 17th SBAC meeting in Olympia, Washington. The predetermined failure rate is obtained by testing the students with age-inappropriate material, questions that have more than one answer, questions that are vague in what they are asking, etc…” she explained.
“No exam in life has such high failure rates, so why do we want to expose our children to this unfairness and stress for an unproven exam that sets up most of them to fail, and thus shows that there is another agenda behind the test?” she said.
Zeitler continued to say “under Common Core, much time gets wasted in the classroom. The students practice for the experimental test, take the test, and miss technology class time because other students are using the computers to take the test. Plus, the teachers need training on how to administer the test, have workshops to learn how to teach Common Core, etc. In other words, this time adds up to more time spent on the test instead of on academic education.”
“Another issue with the test are the delayed results that get returned well into the next school year. This is too late for them to be utilized by the teachers to help the students, which is the main purpose of testing, and further incriminates the purpose of the SBAC.”
“Dr. Peg Luksik, a teacher with over 35 years of experience in both special and elementary education, and a former advisor to the U.S. Department of Education, who has extensive experience in assessments in a classroom setting and has written and evaluated curriculum, explained how the adaptive SBAC test is being manipulated, as it is being taken, so it is not a valid assessment. As an example, in the more philosophical areas, like history, you have to answer a question by complying, before you can move on because the test won’t let you move on unless you do.”
“Teacher evaluations are also tied to the test, which makes no sense whatsoever since a test is not representative of overall student performance. Common Core is harming not just our children but all American children. It’s hurting teachers and schools, too. By refusing the test, you’re protecting your children, but you’re also taking back some control, and making a bigger statement. This is one small step for stopping Common Core in its tracks, she added.”
Why Refuse Common Core?
“For me, refusing the test is not only about my daughters not taking the harmful, unethical test, but it’s also about saying NO to ALL of Common Core, which encompasses much more non-education pieces than one can imagine,” she said with resonance.
“For starters, Bill Gates is the main individual behind the funding of Common Core. There are corporations and Bill Gates. This man has no background in education but he has deep pockets. The way I see it, this is the first time in American history that one person has basically owned an American institution. This is unacceptable.”
“Companies, such as Google, that support Common Core are also setting themselves up to make billions of dollars by rolling out new testing materials, copyrighting a new way of doing math, creating new curriculum that aligns with the test, coming up with new training materials and programs, selling brand-new technology, and data mining the children’s private information, etc. When the schools buy into this they do not always realize they are just setting up the framework / infrastructure for deceptive Common Core,” she stated.
“As for keeping children’s private information private, this will no longer exist. As an example, Common Core data mines 400+ data points of private information from children and their families. The children’s new behavioral, attitudinal, and psychological data; in addition to their academic data, can be accessed by the Federal Government and other third-parties who claim to use the data for ‘educational purposes’ which may label the children for life, and potentially limit their futures.”
“Right now, education technology companies boast 10,000 data points per child, per day, more than Google, Netflix, or Facebook. Common Core uses our children’s mined data in a ‘decision-making’ model to determine our children’s careers for them by Grade 6, similar to what China does. Why do we want to be like China? They have the highest rates of testing, China wants to learn from us, and now we are becoming like them? This decision-making model is clearly abusing children’s private information. This is different from mining adult data because the information is not used to shape the future of adults,” she said.
“To make matters worse, our children’s medical records collected by schools are also non-exempt. Parents often think the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA) protects them but it does not because their ‘educational records’, including IEP’s, 504’s, and future school health clinic data, now fall under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), not HIPAA. In other words, FERPA was gutted, so now this data is allowed to be accessed,” she stated.
Another point Zeitler made “Common Core’s plan is to replace public schools with Charter Schools, which have no Boards of Education, local representation, or parental input; and for-profit investors run them. This means parental and local control of education can become obsolete if Charter Schools continue to take-over the Public Schools. The Charters still take public tax dollars for public education and that is hurting public schools.”
Zeitler firmly believes this grand experiment “limits children’s full potential, stifles their growth, and creates unnecessary stress. Common Core is unacceptable. I am spreading awareness to quicken the return to purposeful academic education for our nation’s children, teachers and schools, at a local level” she stated.
What Every Parent Should Know
Zeitler strongly believes that Common Core is not about bettering education. “It is a fact that educators did not advocate for this. Instead, it was a corporate / government initiative. I believe we need to know the full picture, so we know the history, purpose, and outcome of Common Core. It is a repackaged education agenda that was decades in the making,” she stated.
“For parents who don’t know much about Common Core, please research online and find out what is really going on so you can make a difference for our children. There is so much information out there for your review and the information can be overwhelming but extremely eye-opening,” she stated.
How to Refuse the SBAC Test
Available for comment was Dr. Michael Pascento. “The procedure for parents to not have their child take the SBAC Assessment is called a ‘refusal’. Parents submit a letter to the school stating their refusal right and the student is not entered into the assessment system.” As for the students who are not taking part in the assessment they “were / will be assigned to a teacher and an alternative academic lesson takes place during the assessment period,” he stated.
As for other school districts and states, this process varies. Zeitler said “unfortunately not all towns are like Sherman. If there is resistance to exercise your parental rights and constitutional rights then refusal forms are available at ctagainstcommoncore.org and unitedoptout.com.”
When asked about what the consequences are for refusing this assessment test, Zeitler stated “there is no law in existence right now that penalizes these children. There is a fear instilled in parents that the States will withdraw school funding if there is greater than a 5% refusal. This has never happened and experts say it won’t.”
A PARTIAL LIST OF SUSAN’S READING RECOMMENDATIONS:
Sample Test Rate Failure Results in Connecticut: No, the Common Core SBAC test is not like a blood test.
Jonathan Pelto: Common Core test Opt-Out movement steamrolls across the nation
Jonathan Pelto’s Blog, Connecticut Common Core Headlines: www.jonathanpelto.com
Connecticut’s Student Privacy Bill at Risk: HB 7017 Bill
Chalkbeat New York: As opt-out numbers grow, Arne Duncan says feds may have to step in
NY Opt Out Advocacy Group Report: 2015 Refusal Policy and Count
Anita Hoge: The End Game of Assessment
The Cost of Common Core: Dr. Tienken: Common Core Unproven Yet Costs $15 Billion +
Jane Robbins on Vimeo: Data-Mining Your Child: Building and Using the Psychological Dossier
Truth in American Education: A Mental Health Professional’s Perspective on the Common Core
Jonathan Carroll: Common Core 101 – The FAQ
Local Parents and Teachers Speak-Up: Why They Refused SBAC Testing For Their Children…
Printed in the May 13th Edition of the Citizen News.
“One of my biggest concerns is that it appears the tests are written at a level that is three to five grade levels above the child’s academic level (children in the 3rd grade are tested using materials that are at a 6th, 7th or 8th grade level).
In my own research, I also found a sample elementary level question where I could not choose the correct answer choice, even though I knew the actual answer to the question.
Furthermore, it appears that the test designers purposely have created questions with ambiguous answer choices to test the children’s reasoning and critical thinking skills, however I would argue that the depth of knowledge that is required to reason out the answers makes those type of questions all but impossible to answer at the elementary and middle school level.
This is very upsetting to us because it seems to support the notion that the tests were in fact designed for the children to fail. It seems like an unnecessary amount of stress to put the child under for something that doesn’t appear to truly evaluate the child’s mastery of the subject matter. We are all for high standards, critical thinking, and rigorous curriculum, as long as it is presented in a developmentally appropriate way.
In the end, we decided to refuse the test because after reading several articles, we have a lot of concerns about the test design and what it is really measuring (don’t get me started on the whole data mining issue). We have heard nothing from our school, nor any other school, which explains why our child should be taking this test. No one can seem to give us one good reason not to opt out, which leads me to believe that they may not know enough about the test themselves. Until someone can give us some proof that this is a valid and reliable evaluation tool, we will continue to refuse to participate in this testing. There is too much at stake for our children, our teachers, and our school.”
Stephanie S., Parent and Teacher
“I believe it is very important to support my child’s teachers and my child’s school, by being involved in my child’s education. Local control of public school is slowly eroding. As a parent, it now comes down to, what can I do? So, I write and phone my state representatives and I sign petitions. If I see curriculum that is age inappropriate or wrong- in any sense of the word, I speak up. Most importantly, I REFUSE all computerized Standardized Testing for my child. As Common Core is all about the testing, and is turning K-12 education into a profit generated enterprise, using tax payers dollars to fund it. There is an entire industry built around the copyrighted curriculum, the manufacturing of this curriculum, the cost of each test, and the grading and preparation of these tests. All of which generates millions of dollars in profit.
Let’s not forget the data collection on each and every child, across this nation. Our children are being sold for profit. Our children are being pigeon-holed. Our children are the subject of a nationwide 10 year experiment. As Common Core and the Standardized Testing that goes along with it, has never been proven to elevate education. Common Core violates three federal laws and the 10th Amendment. So it all comes down to the power of the parent. I have an obligation to protect my child and his educational future. The best way to do this is to REFUSE the tests. Cut the money that feeds the beast. We as parents must find the courage to say enough is enough, and, we must take action to make sure our children receive the best education possible, for their individual needs.”
Suzanne R.F., Parent
“I didn’t want to have my son take the test, as I don’t feel it helps HIM. He is not a native English speaker and is still learning the language, and there doesn’t seem to be a provision for that in the testing. I don’t feel it would be productive for him, and would not reflect what his teachers have done to help him, which is quite a lot. Also, I am trying to protect his privacy, and that of our family.”
Susanna M., Parent
“It seems the assessors need to be assessed! Standardized tests are created for assessors to assess with the least amount of effort, thus putting the yolk on teachers, and ignoring the peripheral abilities of students.
Smarter Balanced? Isn’t it ridiculous to claim the test is smarter and balanced? If they are going to name the test after a margarine, Promise would be a better name. Next year we’ll call it I Can’t Believe it’s not Better!”
Parent and Teacher (wishing to remain anonymous)