Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Busy Few Months in Education

I hope you have had a great start to the new school year these past few months! It is such a busy time in education and especially in our schools.

NYS PTA has also been busy advocating for children throughout the state during this very tumultuous time in education that started a few years ago, and it just seems to continue to evolve and change at a very quick pace.

Our Executive Administrator, Rick Longhurst, has worked collaboratively with our Education Coordinator, Catherine Romano, to respond to the many changes affecting the education of the children in our state based on feedback we are receiving from our members. 

These very informational documents are available from our Hot Topics in Education webpage by clicking here.

  • Information from Hot Topics Workshop at SLC  - At the Summer Leadership Conference, Rick Longhurst and Catherine Romano held a workshop session entitled “Hot Topics In Education.“ (This workshop is being be offered again at our upcoming annual convention being held in Niagara Falls November 13-15.)
    • The following are questions that workshop attendees posted (in black) and answers provided to the best of our ability (in blue). Please note that when discussing school process, we provide a general understanding. For what actually occurs in your school or district, please speak to teachers, principals, district office leaders and superintendents. Click here to read the document.
  • Response to the Governor's Commission - The following is a response by the NYS Congress of Parents and Teachers (NYS PTA) to the six points described by Governor Cuomo in outlining the Commission’s charge. Click here to read the letter. 
    • Excerpt from letter -  "We had hoped and even expected that we would be asked to participate as commission members and were disappointed when our direct voice was not considered.  We have played key roles in bringing diverse parent groups together in the past. Most recently, this past May, we brought groups as diverse as Students First New York, the NYS Alliance for Public Education and the Alliance for Quality Education together with NYS PTA representatives to offer common goals and views on sometimes diverse solutions to the NYS Board of Regents. Nevertheless, we conclude that we have an obligation to contribute our views and offer initial thoughts in response to each of the Governor’s points."
  • NYS PTA Responses to Questions Posed to NYSSBA Panel - NYS PTA responsed to questions posed to a NYSSBA Panel by Timothy Kremer, Executive Director of NYS School Boards Association, on October 19, 2015. Click here to read NYS PTA responses presented by Executive Administrator Rick Longhurst.
    • Excerpt from the responses - "Schools aren’t factories. We’re in the people business, not the widget business. Successful schools are built on common focus and collaboration. Successful collaborations are built on productive relationships and productive relationships are based on mutual trust."

A Few Notes.....
  • The Parent Teacher Magazine is now available electronically and is not only available from the website but is also now being sent directly to members as you requested when we surveyed you last spring. 
  • The 119th Annual Convention will be here before you know it. It will be in Niagara Falls from November 13-15. This year we will be offering live streaming capability from our website to our General Sessions 1-3. So if you are unable to be there with us, you will be able to view the proceedings from our website. We will be sending out more information about this in the upcoming weeks....
Thank you for all that you do for children....


Bonnie M. Russell

NYS PTA® President
Communicate to Advocate!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Assessments are Much More Than a Test

Summer is a time to prepare for the upcoming school year, and for our NYS PTA Board of Directors (Board) that includes reviewing resolutions for our upcoming Convention in November, and reviewing and updating position papers.

At our Board meeting held last month, we approved the following position papers that were presented to us by our Resolutions Committee/Advocacy Team taking into account feedback from our members.

The paper on Assessment, Testing and Learning was timely with the release of the Grade 3-8 ELA and Math Assessments last week. Keep in mind that our position is on overall assessments (those used in the classroom), NOT just NYS Assessments.
Assessment is an essential aspect of the learning process since it provides feedback intended to show the level at which instruction should begin, the effectiveness of ongoing learning strategies, and the level of proficiency attained as a result of the instructional process. It is intended to benefit the student, to inform teachers who guide each student’s progress, and to assist parents in understanding how to support their child’s learning. 
There are many types of assessment, with what we know as tests representing only a subset of the numerous assessment tools available. (Please reference the position paper from the link above for specifics.)
Here is a preview of some of the talking points:
All Educators must
  • establish balanced use of assessments to inform instruction without over testing or overemphasizing test performance
  • create and use high quality assessments to measure what is important in a meaningful manner that meets the standards with validity, reliability, fairness, and developmental appropriateness - especially for students with disabilities or new English learners
  • maintain a positive environment for students during assessment/test administration 
  • minimize the use of testing and test preparation so to maximize the learning environment and support whole child learning 
  • avoid the use of a single test or single assessment measure for the placement, promotion, or retention of a student, or within high stakes decisions affecting students 
  • establish developmentally appropriate seat time when assessing students
  • use assessment as part of a holistic improvement of learning and strategic planning for the individual student, groups of students and school systems, rather than using assessment results for punishment or competition
  • never use standardized multiple-choice tests and school readiness tests with preschool and early elementary children for any purpose 
We ask that you also review our position papers on Educating the Whole Child and Juvenile Justice in New York State. They are very important and are representative of our balance as an association to address all aspects of a child at school, at home and within the community.

A big thank you to the Resolutions Committee/Advocacy Team who worked diligently and passionately on these position papers.


Bonnie M. Russell
NYS PTA® President
Communicate to Advocate!

Friday, August 7, 2015

NYS PTA Online Membership System

From time to time members of the NYS PTA Governance Team will be invited to be guest bloggers. This post is being provided to you by our NYS PTA Membership Coordinator, Sean Hannam. 

(Please be on the look out over the next few weeks for upcoming posts about the membership survey results and a separate post about the recently approved NYS PTA position papers.)

NYS PTA Online Membership System 
by Sean Hannam, 
NYS PTA Membership Coordinator 

We are excited to announce that Phase One of our new Online Membership System is nearly complete! It had it's coming out party at our recent Summer Leadership Conference and was greeted with much excitement and anticipation.

Guided by the feedback we have received from our members, this online system aims to:
  • help us to become more economical, ecological, technological and timely; 
  • provide units an easy, convenient and accurate way to maintain a roster of their members; and
  • provide units a single source to send information to their members via email and/or text.
We also expect that our Online Membership System will provide units the chance to:
  • gain and maintain members from areas that were previously under-represented, including out of town family and friends, local businesses and others in the community who may wish to become members, even though they may not necessarily be active members of the school community; and
  • send links to these prospective members allowing them the opportunity to show their support by becoming a member (and paying their dues) online without the need to attend a meeting or event in person.
Phase One of the Online Membership System will be available to units on or before September 1 – just in time to start off the 2015-2016 school yearTraining was provided to members during our annual Summer Leadership Conference, but for those who couldn’t attend, we also have training materials online at our website on our membership web page:
Support from the Region and State Membership teams will be available for any questions you may have that are not addressed in the resources provided on the website.

We understand that the move from traditional paper cards and membership lists is a radical change, but we are guided by the knowledge that it will help drive our association forward and reach even more members. This shift to online membership is putting us on the right path to help NYS PTA better serve our members and reach our goal of serving every child with one voice.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Surveying the Field

Where has the month of May gone? It started out as a whirlwind of activity with summarizing a survey we sent out to collect the opinions on the assessment process. We then used that information as a basis for commentary at the Learning Summit held by the State Education Department. As the month progressed, we continued to reach out to members with a field survey asking for your opinions on our current services, your needs, and your expectations from us as an association. Below is a brief update on each of the subjects to keep you in the loop.

Feedback from Survey on Assessments 
At the conclusion of the April 2015 NYS Testing Program, NYS PTA distributed a brief survey to approximately 27,000 members. The survey was not a scientific sampling of membership but was intended as informal background to assist us in preparing comments offered to NYS Board of Regents members at a Learning Summit held on May 7, 2015. As of May 13, 2015, 3,051 responses had been received. The results are presented as an attachment in three ways:
  1. Overall results
  2. A cross tabulation that compares demographic information in question #1 with responses to other questions
  3. A cross tabulation that compares test participation reported in question #3 with opinions on the NYS testing program reported in question #4
Click here for a pdf of the results. 

Learning Summit on Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) 
On May 7, NYS PTA had the opportunity to coordinate the viewpoints from multiple parent groups throughout the state at the New York State Education Department Learning Summit on APPR. For those of you that did not have the opportunity to view this on the simulcast, you can access information about the event at, which includes the agenda, bios and submitted materials. 
We had quite a bit of Twitter activity about our panel, and some  press coverage from the Albany Times Union at, You can see the tweets in a Storify format along with links to the testimony by clicking here.

Coordinating the many diverse parent groups with each having their opportunity to share their own opinions and suggestions proved to be an enriching experience. We look forward to continuing to converse with these groups into the future.

Your Voice Counts - Survey to the Grassroots 
Over the past several months, NYS PTA has been working on gathering information from a variety of interested individuals. Several focus group sessions have been held with different groups of individuals. Most recently, we initiated a survey that went out to all of the email contacts in our database and was also posted to our Facebook page over this past weekend. 

This survey did not go to our Governance Team as we are looking for feedback from our grassroots. The survey did close on May 23. We plan to share those results and more importantly plan our actions based on the results. Thank you to everyone who took the time to participate.


Bonnie M. Russell
NYS PTA® President
Communicate to Advocate!

Monday, April 20, 2015

We All Want to do What is Right for Our Children

As we enter into another week of NYS Assessments, NYS PTA acknowledges the significant increase in refusals that occurred this past week with the ELA Assessments as many parents chose to have their students not participate. It is anticipated that this trend will continue with the math assessments this week as parents express their right to decide what is in the best interest of their child.

We all want to do what is right for our children, their teachers and their schools. However, that means different things to different people. Every student and family is unique. As families make these decisions, we urge everyone to respect all parents and students whether they choose to take or refuse the test. Everyone should be treated equally in a respectful manner no matter what that decision is. 

In the next few weeks NYS PTA will be publishing a statement about “What’s next for education in New York?”  It will discuss what direction we will urge the decision makers to take around many hot topics affecting the ability of all children in New York to receive an equitable and excellent education. 


Bonnie M. Russell
NYS PTA® President
Communicate to Advocate!

Friday, April 3, 2015


Surprisingly, Tuesday's state budget adoption linked the distribution of increased school aid to another revision of Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) elements. Assessments are one of two elements to be weighted in the APPR that must be approved by November 15. 

With this news, the movement to promote test refusal*, as a means to make a political statement, has increased around our state. 

We have heard from many members; some urging NYS PTA to endorse test refusal, but most appreciating our position to support every parent's right to make the choice for their own child. 

As the, “New York State PTA Position Paper: Use of Student Assessment & Its Impact on High‐Stakes Educational Decisions” states:

High‐stakes testing associated with political initiatives has changed the landscape of education in New York State and across our country. The effects of some of these changes may be unintended, but when devoid of a sound educational rationale, they can actually interfere with educational improvement.

We also support the need for meaningful pupil assessment and educator accountability. Current trends unfortunately exaggerate the use of narrowly defined results to judge educational performance and make high‐stakes educational decisions. These trends cannot be permitted to stifle student and educator creativity or to impede the imperative to educate the whole child.

The latest action by our state leaders, combined with member feedback on both sides of the issue, creates an urgency to reiterate that NYS PTA strongly supports the right of every parent to decide what is best for their child whether to take or refuse the test.

We strongly recommend that parents whose children will not participate in annual testing work collaboratively with their school district’s administration on a plan for the child that is agreeable to both parties.

Finally we ask that, no matter how you choose, everyone be respectful of another parents’ right to make either a similar or different choice for their child. 

*Please note, we do not refer to this as “opt-out” as that is not an option in our state. One can "refuse the test" or "not participate" thereby causing the test to be coded 999.


Bonnie M. Russell
NYS PTA® President
Communicate to Advocate!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A Sad Day for Education in NYS

Today is a sad day for the students and teachers of New York. 

The Governor, claiming to be the best advocate for children, has tied inadequate school funding to questionable education reform based on volatile state tests and tied to ethics reform. 

Both the Assembly and Senate, who promised $1.8 to $1.9 billion of increased aid, sold out promised relief in order to ease ethics reform. They fundamentally short-changed the children they claim they care about. 

Huge stacks of printed bill materials shared only hours before the votes last night left little time for thoughtful consideration and stakeholder input. Major educational reforms were ill-considered in the haste to meet a vote deadline.

While NYS PTA appreciates the decision to assign the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) revision to NYSED and the Board of Regents, as we advocated for, we believe the parameters and time frame for consideration are completely inadequate for all stakeholders to provide input and thoughtful feedback. Specifically: 
  •     Parent input was erased from APPR
  •     Questions remain on testing and proportions of standardized testing in APPR 
  •     What formulates student growth is not clear
  •     What elements are part of a new matrix needs to be defined 
  •     How schools will manage the use and costs of outside evaluators is unknown 

Once again, tying release of aid to approval of negotiated APPR elements by November 15, DURING the school year, is indefensible.

The lack of reliability of the current NYS standardized tests along with these hastily adopted education reforms will fuel the already increasing opposition to participation in testing scheduled for this April. 

The unfortunate message to the children of New York: your education and future are not worth the time and collaborative decision-making of Albany legislators.

With this latest state action it is even more urgent that we reinforce the right of every parent to decide what is best for their child, whether to take or refuse the test!


Bonnie M. Russell
NYS PTA® President
Communicate to Advocate!