New York City Students’ Standardized Test Education Policy
The Issue and Significance for New York City
As directed by the Federal Government, the education policy of the State of New York requires students to take standardized tests every year. In particular, The New York States law stipulates that the 3rd to 8th graders should take state standardized tests for core subjects in order to assess and compare their performances. Students in the 3rd to 8th grade in the state of New York are required to take standardized tests in Math and English every year in spring. Students in the 4th to 8th graders are required to take standardized tests in science also in spring (New York City Department of Education n.p). New York State stipulates further that the results derived from the standardized tests should be used by teachers and schools in determining whether or not a student qualifies for to move to the next grade. The law also stipulates that schools should make reports of performance of the each student every year and make them available to the parents.
As explained by the department of education of the State of New York, the law about undertaking standardized tests is based on the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) that was developed by the federal government (New York City Department of Education n.p). All schools in New York City are obliged to adhere to the law, failure to which they risk a cut in financial support provided by the state and federal governments. In April 2015, the legislative arm of the government of New York made a slight modification to the law. The legislature added a new law to the existing education policy stating that evaluation of the performance of the teachers will heavily be relying on the performance of students in the standardized tests. The legislature gave the Education department to make sure that the law would be adopted by almost 700 schools within New York City (Spector n.p).
The issue with law of state of New York about standardized tests for students is that it is based on a federal law that has already been changed due to the negative reactions to it by the citizens of the US. Precisely, the NCLB Act was found to have negative impacts on students and teachers, leading to negative reactions to it by parents, teachers, students and others. As will be explained later, for instance, the standardized tests were found to cause a lot of stress on students and they were found not to have significant value to the students (Strauss n.p). Such issues triggered the emergence of the Opt Out Movement that is led by parents, which influences parents to opt out their school-age children from the standardized tests developed by the state governments. Opting out implies that students do not take the standardized tests (Strauss n.p). The movement started in 2010 and it has been gaining a lot of power and influence very year in the US. The main agenda of the movement is to push for a change in the existing education policy so that students are not given the standardized tests. As such, the agenda of the movement is acting against the law that the New York state government is trying to propagate.
The issue is of importance to the state of New York since it might lead to a constitutional crisis if it is not addressed. The pressure from Opt Out Movement and other citizens of the US to change the policy about standardized tests has been increasing constantly. Currently, parents in the US are already opting out their children from the Standardized tests. In fact, the state of New York has been ranked first throughout the US in the percentage of students that have opted out of the standardized tests (Strauss n.p). At the same time, the state of the performance of students in standardized tests is still used to determine whether or not a student is supposed to move to the next grade (Strauss n.p). Considering the current situation and the possibility of a future crisis, the government of the State of New York might need to modify its education policy to accommodate the needs of the public. In particular, the state government might need to change to either eliminate the standardized tests, make modifications that will make the tests easy, reduce the frequency of the standardized tests or make any other modification that will be suitable and that will be supported by the public. This paper presents a background to the New York State education policy related to standardized tests for students, scholarly research related to the issues involved and the stakeholders involved and affected. Also, the paper contains political debates and conflicts, the relevant policy makers and official processes and a final argument about the issue.
As explained earlier, the education policy of the state of New York about students’ standardized tests is based on the NCLB Act. The NCLB Act was established on July 8, 2002 by the federal government, particularly the Congress (Dee and Jacob 418). The Congress derived the NCLB through making modifications to Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). ESEA had been established in 1965 as a law that described the federal government’s roles to ensure that all children had access to primary education (U.S Department of Education 2). For instance, the ESEA stipulated that the federal government had a pivotal role of supporting public schools financially throughout the US. The NCLB increased the involvement of the federal government in primary education. The Congress noted that there were significant differences in the performances of students and schools in the US. After a close analysis, the Congress found that the differences stemmed from backgrounds of students, including ethnic and racial backgrounds. For instance, the Congress found out the children from minority ethnic groups were not performing well. In this regard, the Congress decided to establish a law that would facilitate the performance of the poorly performing students and hence, reduce the performance gap. The resolution made by the congress was to hold schools and teachers accountable for the performances of the students. As such, the Congress developed the NCLB Act (U.S Department of Education 5).
The NCLB Act had several key provisions. First, the Act stipulated that students in all states of the US should undertake state standardized tests every year. The Act required all schools to develop Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) for each student and make the AYP reports available to parents. The Act had several specific requirements that each school had to adhere to. For instance, each school had to make performance targets for each grade and make efforts towards achieving the target (U.S Department of Education 7). If a school missed the performance target for four consecutive years, the NCLB Act required a corrective action to be administered, such as coming up with a new curriculum or replacing the tutors. The schools were required to base the AYP on the results of standardized tests. In each primary school, at least 95 percent of the students had to take the standardized tests and one highly challenging test developed by the teachers (U.S Department of Education 7). All states of the US, including New York, were required to adopt the provisions of the NCLB Act. The federal government made it a condition that schools would be provided with federal funds if they adhered to the provisions of the Act.
The NCLB has some positive effect after the implementation. After the implementation, students from minority ethnic groups should significant improvement in their English reading skills. For the first time, the parents had access to overall performance records of their children. As such, the parents could use the records to determine ways of assisting their children to improve academic performances. Further, the overall academic achievements of the students improved at a rapid rate after the implementation of the law. The gap between the performances of the students also reduced (Pizmony-Levy and Saraisky 8). Despite this, several issues emerged later about the impacts of the Act. Over time, the Act led to a situation in which the teachers, schools and students gave more attention to passing the tests than to learning (Pizmony-Levy and Saraisky 14). The Federal government realized that the NCLB Act led teachers to be punished for the low performances of all students, yet it did not recognize that children have varying capabilities to perform in school. The Federal government noted that even after the implementation of the Act, the English skills of the Hispanics, African Americans, immigrants and other minority groups remained lower than the English skills of the Whites. The law led to the punishment of children just because of their backgrounds. Also, the federal government noted the grievances of the Opt Out Movement.
After noticing the issues surrounding the NCLB Act, the federal government decided to reduce its involvement in primary education through making modifications to the Act. The Congress, during the administration of President Obama, replaced the NCLB Act with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA (Davis n.p). The provisions of the ESSA recognized the fact that all students have different capabilities and stipulated that emphasis should be given to the successes of students than failures. Also, the new law reduced the involvement of the federal government in primary education (Davis n.p). State governments were given the roles of dealing with schools located within their jurisdictions on matters related to tests. However, the federal government still encourages the state governments to administer standardized tests to schools. Despite this, the state governments are allowed to make modifications to the education laws about the standardized tests in a way that suits the citizens. The government of New York has not taken steps to make the law about standardized tests lenient in any way even after all the changes in the NCLB Act. The education policy of New York is still based on the NCLB Act (Davis n.p). Instead of recognizing the concerns of the Opt Out movement, the government of New York has been implementing more aggressive laws about standardized tests. In order to gain more understanding of the issue, it is vital to explore the results derived from the recent studies related to the issue of standardized tests.
Relevant Scholarly Research
A lot of empirical studies have been carried out that are relevant to the impacts of the education policy of the state of New York regarding students’ standardized tests. One of the effects of the NCLB standardized tests, as found out in the previous studies, is that it leads to stress and other health problems among the students. A study conducted in the US, which involved analyzing data gathered for several decades, showed that the number of students undertaking secondary and primary education suffering from stress increased from 10 percent to 33 percent in the last three decades. Higher rates of stress have been recorded among the minority groups than among the whites. For instance, one of the studies conducted recently showed that the rate of stress among African American students in elementary schools was 44 percent. The increase in the number has been recorded after implementation of the NCLB Act (Parents across America 1). A study conducted in Michigan in 2009 on showed that 11 percent of the elementary schools students were suffering from psychological and physiological problems that were caused by school assessments. Another study conducted in 2013 showed that 25 percent of students undertaking primary education had psychological and physiological problems caused by the school tests (Parents across America 1). The study also showed psychological problems such as anxiety and stress were significantly higher when students thought of undertaking standardized tests than when they thought about undertaking non-standardized tests. A study conducted in England between 2013 and 2014 showed that during that period, the number of students that were given counseling due to test-related stress increased by 200 percent. This happened after the implementation of standardized tests in England. The rate of ADHD diagnosis in the early 1990s was around 5 percent. By 2013, the rate had increased to 11 percent. Research findings showed a correlation between the increase in the rate of ADHD and punishment for school performance failure to the students and teachers (Parents across America 1). During the first four years after implementation of the NCLB Act, the number of people diagnosed with ADHD increased by 22 percent. Thus, the provisions of the NCLB Act embedded in the education policy of the state of New York might be causing stress on the students and teachers.
Studies have also been conducted on parents and guardians to determine the reasons why they are against the standardized tests. A good example is the survey conducted by Pizmony-Levy and Saraisky (5) on 1,641 parents and guardians from 47 states in the US. All the participants were taking care of school-age children. Around 74.5 percent of the parents and guardians involved in the study had opted out their school-age children from the standardized tests. Around 92 percent stated that they would opt out their children from the standardized tests in the future. The parents and guardians were asked to give the reasons for opting out. Among the reasons that they gave were invalidity of the tests, misuse of the tests in making decisions, loss of learning tine, corruption and lack of transparency of the results and stress on the children.
The parents cited reasons such as lack of validity of the tests, stress on the students, misuse of the tests in making high-stake decisions, lack of transparency on the content of the tests and loss of learning time (Pizmony-Levy and Saraisky 5). Another study conducted on American Federation of Teachers in 2013 focused on determining the class time that is spared for test-preparation. The study was undertaken in two mid-sized primary schools. The results derived from the study indicated that the students spent up to 50 hours and up to 110 hours every year doing and preparing for standardized tests, respectively. In Bibb County in Georgia, the days spent on tests by 2013 were 70 out of 180 school days per year. The results indicated that the purpose of schooling was to turning from learning to focusing on tests.
Scholars have also found positive effects of the standardized tests on students. Geier and colleagues conducted a study that was meant to determine the effect of standardized tests on students’ achievement. The researchers gathered data for the study from 7th and 8th graders in a public school in the US. The findings derived from the study showed that the level of achievement of students and gap in achievements reduced after the implementation of the NCLB Act (Geier et al. 922). A different study conducted by Hanushek and Rivkin in different schools in Texas showed that the laws embedded in the NCLB Act led to the improvement of the efforts of teachers in teaching. Also, the results derived from the study showed that the law led to the enhancement of the accountability of teachers. Despite the fact the education policies of the state of New York that are based on the NCLB Act have some positive effects, the negative effects seem to outweigh the positive effects, as noted in the recent empirical studies. However, it seems that there is a need for additional research on the effects of the standardized tests on school-age children in order to come up with compelling findings that the policy makers in New York can rely upon when making decisions.
Stakeholders Involved and Affected
In this context, stakeholders can be defined as individuals, groups and agencies that affect, are affected and/or have an interest in an issue. The policy makers of the state of New York are major stakeholders of the issue of standardized tests for students since they are responsible for maintaining, modifying or eliminating the law. Their decisions and resolutions regarding the issue are affected by the directions of the federal government, and they affect other stakeholders, such as students. Students attending to schools based in the New York City are also key stakeholders to the issue since they are directly affected by the standardized tests. Any change to the law might have a negative or positive impact on the students ((Vinovskis 14). Teachers of schools established in New York City are also key stakeholders to the issue since their performances are assessed based on how students perform in the standardized tests. Schools are also assessed based on the performances of the students in the standardized tests and thus, they are also key stakeholders. Parents with school-age children in New York are involved in the Opt Out Movement to fight against the policies about standardized tests and thus, they are also major stakeholders (Vinovskis 16). The department of education of the state of New York is also a stakeholder to the issue since it is given the mandate of implementing the laws on standardized tests. The Federal government has an interest since it encourage states governments to administer standardized tests and thus, it is also a stakeholder to the issue. Other stakeholders that with interests in the law are the state agencies involved in making the standardized assessments and activist groups that fight for civil rights of the residents of New York City (Vinovskis 17).
The Political Conflicts and Policy Debates over the Issue
Conflicts about the standardized tests have mainly been occurring between the government of the state of New York and the public. The policy makers in the New York, for instance, have been trying to strengthen the education policy that is based on the NLCB Act. At the same time, parents, students, teachers, guardians and other members of the public have been fighting against the policy (Strauss n.p). As stated earlier, students are already opting out of the standardized tests, even though the state government has been trying to implement the law. For instance, around 20 percent of students from 3rd to 8th grade in the New York did not take standardized tests in spring 2015. The federal government is at the same position as the government of the state of New York (Strauss n.p). Political debates about the issue have been taking within the Congress and the New York Assembly. In the Congress, the recent debate led to the establishment of the ESSA Act in 2015 after the majority of the members of the congress voted for the change. In the NEW York State Assembly, the debate is still going on, and majority of the members of the Assembly are still supporting the status quo (Strauss n.p).
The relevant Policymakers and the Policymaking Process
The relevant policy makers that should be involved in making modifications to the education policy focused on standardized tests in the state of New York are the members of the legislative arm of the state, particularly the Senate and the Assembly. The members of the legislature are mandated with the role of weighing between the benefits and negative impacts of standardized tests (The Business Council n.p). After doing so, they should determine how to make changes to the law in a way that best suits the needs and the interests of the stakeholders involved. However, the federal government, particularly the Congress, is also involved since it will influence any changes that are made by the government of New York on the education policy (The Business Council n.p). Any change in the ESSA Act by the Congress will have an impact on the decisions made by the New York Government on the education policy. In addition, the judiciary may be involved in making modification to the existing laws on education. The policy making process in both the legislature of the New York state and the Congress starts with the introduction of a bill explaining the changes that need to be made to the education laws. The next step involves debating on the issue and ultimately, voting to determine whether the bill is going to be passed or not. If the bill is not passed, it is dropped, and in some cases, on the condition that modifications be made to it. In case the Congress passes the bill, it is signed by the president and from then, it becomes a law. If the legislature passes the bill, the bills are signed into law by the governor (The Business Council n.p). The president and the governor may decide not to sign the bill and return it to the policy makers for modifications.
The education policy of the state of New York that is based on the NCLB Act has more negative impacts than the positive impacts, and this explains why it has elicited reactions from parents, students, teachers and other stakeholders. Considering the emerging pressure to change the policy, the members of the legislature of the state of New York should work together with the federal government to make changes to the policy that will suit the best interests and needs of the stakeholders involved.
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