Teaching Profession

A Look at NEA’s New Business This Year: Testing, Testing, and More Testing

By Stephen Sawchuk — July 04, 2015 5 min read
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Orlando, Fla.

Delegates to the 2015 National Education Association Representative have submitted more than 15 new business items dealing with standardized testing, opt-outs, and the exams created by two national consortia to measure common-core skills, among other things. (Not even the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP exam, is spared.)

There’s also more scrutiny of the Common Core State Standards on the runway, and a look at school takeovers.

Please bookmark this post and check back for updates as debates happen.

NBI 5: This item would require the NEA to join in support of a nationwide opt-out movement and repeal any provision of national, state, and local laws that penalize parents, teachers, or students in relation to opt-out decisions. Result: The NBI went down by a standing vote, which seems to underscore the union’s somewhat mixed feelings about opt-out.

NBI 8: Would educate and empower members to exercise their rights to refuse state-mandated assessments for their own children. Adopted.

NBI 23: This item would prohibit the NEA from being affiliated with any foundation or corporation linked to “the negative public education reform movement.” A vetting system would determine which foundations or corporations qualify; the NBI lists Microsoft, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Pearson as examples.

The subtext here appears to be President Lily Eskelsen Garcia’s promise, during a conference of the Diane Ravitch-affiliated Network for Public Education, not to accept Gates Foundation funding. Garcia was criticized later because the union’s quasi-independent foundation has gotten Gates funding, and Garcia herself has defended some of the organization’s work.

(Teacher Beat aside: Just on the face value of things, this item could cause some real trouble for the NEA; some of its favored programs, like National Board certification, are supported by the Gates Foundation. And Pearson scores the edTPA licensing exam, which the national organization supports. Unrelated, but in the interests of full disclosure, the Gates Foundation also provides funding to Education Week to support coverage of college- and career-ready standards.)

The NBI was defeated.

NBI 25: This would call on state affiliates to lobby their legislatures to oppose cut scores on common-core tests. Amended to refer to oppose “high-stakes tests’ arbitrary cut scores.” It passed.

NBI 32: This item would require the state to create a comprehensive campaign to end the high-stakes use of standardized tests created by PARCC and Smarter Balanced consortia, as long as the tests are used for teacher evaluation and school ratings. The item was modified and adopted.

NBI 43: This one would require the NEA to provide talking points on the history of standardized testing, the effects on students and curricula, statements from child-development experts, and examples of authentic alternative classroom assessments. The NBI was adopted.

NBI 48: This item would require the union to highlight through its publications what affiliate are doing to inform parents of the negative effects of testing and the right to opt out their children. Modified and adopted.

NBI 49: This NBI would require the NEA to publish a summary regarding who funded the development of the common core. Modified and referred to committee.

NBI 50: If passed, this NBI would require the NEA to recognize parents who stand with teachers by opting out their students. Adopted.

NBI 51: This one deals with using “value added” as applied to teacher preparation. It would require the NEA to analyze affiliates’ lobbying strategies to overturn laws that prohibit financial aid to students based on programs’ poor value-added scores, or that require denial of accreditation based student standardized-test scores.

(Teacher Beat aside: I’m not sure if any states actually have laws withholding financial aid for these reasons, although a federal proposal to that end is in the works. Also, it is extraordinarily rare for a teacher ed. program to lose its approval for any performance reason. Still, it’s clear that the teacher-college-accountability push is concerning to members.)

Modified and adopted.

NBI 54: This would require the union to “cease promotion” of the common core and associated testing to allow for a “critical examination” of current implementation. Modified and significantly softened, then adopted. Now, the union will be “continuing to monitor” the common core as it examines its implementation.

NBI 65: Would require the NEA president to request future NAEP reports to provide percentage scores without the cut score categories of “basic, proficient, and advanced.” ’ Referred to the union’s executive committee.

NBI 90: Would require the NEA to support postponing assessment of English-language learners until they achieve proficiency in English as evidenced by state-approved English-proficiency assessments. This NBI was withdrawn.

NBI 92: This NBI would require the union to underscore “the exposure of the link between toxic testing and the excessive stress it places on educators.” Withdrawn.

NBI 98: Would direct NEA to work with states to develop a Code of Ethics for state boards of education prohibiting the appointment of members with direct ties to corporations and/or organizations “that seek to undermine public education for the goal of corporate profit.” Modified and adopted.

NBI 106: This item would require the NEA to conduct a national survey to determine the extent to which standardized testing has impacted education by requiring curricular modifications or sacrifices to accommodate testing schedules and limiting access technology. Referred to committee.

NBI 109: Would require the union to lobby for all states to allow students who successfully complete all state required credits to graduate without “testing restrictions.” Modified and adopted.

NBI 115: Would require the NEA to work within existing structures to support a national opt out/test refusal movement. Adopted.

As I’ve written before, most New Business Items are voted on by state-caucus lines. State delegations spend a lot of time in the mornings and evenings working out how they want to vote on NBIs and calling contacts in other states to arrange voting blocs. There are even folks in each delegation with signs reminding delegates how they’re supposed to vote.

Photo: NEA delegates listed testing as one major area of concern in the ESEA.—Stephen Sawchuk

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.