By Sabina Mollot
Following the lead of a principal in Brooklyn, who held a protest outside her school over state English language tests that have been blasted as unfair, other schools have followed suit, with parents organizing similar protests on Friday morning.
At the heart of the matter, frustrated parents said, was that the recently issued tests had nothing to do with the Common Core curriculum students have been taught and had age inappropriate questions. Additionally, in some cases, a multiple choice question would have more than one answer that seemed like it could be correct. There’s also been a lack of transparency, test critics have charged, with no one allowed to see the tests after they’re taken. Yet another complaint was there was product placement in questions, with references to brands like Nike, Barbie and McDonald’s.
On Friday, parents and students at PS 40 participated at the protest, with the crowd stretched along the block on East 20th Street. Some of the kids carried signs that read: “Our kids deserve the best, we need to see the test.”
Council Member Dan Garodnick was also on hand, saying he too wanted the state Department of Education to make the test available to see. “It will help create a better test in the future and reduce the enormous stress on kids and teachers if they know what this is supposed to be like,” he said.
PS 40 PTA Co-President Kirstin Aadahl, who has a daughter in kindergarten at the school, said she hoped to see some change by the time her child is old enough to be taking the state tests. “I don’t want her to be studying for a test that’s meaningless,” said Aadahl. Last year the test had similar problems, she added. “PS 40 did well but many scores went down.” Then this year, teachers were told not to “discuss specifics” of the test.
Students take the tests in English language as well as math. The math tests are scheduled for April 30, May 1 and May 2. The tests don’t factor into students’ grades, but do have an impact on how teachers and schools are evaluated and also could help determine what middle or high schools a student is next placed in.
Another parent at PS 40, Linda Phillips, said she’s noticed that the teachers have been under pressure as well as students. “They’re being judged by this and we feel for them.”
Yet another parent, Deborah Koplovitz, slammed the test as being “a complete waste of energy” and said school funds should be spent elsewhere. “There should be more teachers, more paraprofessionals, more nutrition assistance for schools that make it better for children to learn,” said Koplovitz.
Still, parents at the school insisted it wasn’t testing they were against in general or the school’s curriculum, but simply this
particular test, which was contracted to a firm called Pearson.
“The tests are not a good measurement of the skills or abilities of the students,” said Kara Krauze, another parent. “It’s harmful to subject students to testing that doesn’t represent their capacities.”
Another protest-site school was PS 59 on East 56th Street, which like PS 40 is in Education District 2.
That school’s principal, Adele Schroeter, had penned a letter along with another principal, Lisa Ripperger of PS 234, after tests were taken, urging other schools to participate in the protesting. In the letter she noted how few of her students opted out of the test this year, since administrators had felt confident that the test would be improved following other problems with the test given last year. But, she said, it wasn’t.
“Frankly,” said Schroeter, “many of us were disappointed by the design and quality of the tests and stood by helplessly while kids struggled to determine best answers, distorting much of what we taught them about effective reading skills and strategies and forgoing and deep comprehension for something quite different.” (See full letter here.)
A spokesperson for the state Department of Education did not respond to requests for comment on the protests.
While not done at every school, the protests may also be a sign that educators are no longer afraid of retaliation if they’re openly critical of an official policy. At least that’s the opinion of Shino Tanikawa, the president of Community Education Council District 2.
Referring to the principals’ widely circulated letter, she said, “I don’t think the two principals would have spoken out under Klein or Walcott but we now have a true educator as our chancellor.”
Tanikawa added that she was hoping “for a sea change.”