I was walking my daughter to school this morning, and we walked past parents and students holding a rally outside PS 87:
This is part of coordinated movement of parents in PTAs across the city who are joining to voice concerns about the nature of and the amount of testing that have become paramount as New York moves to implement both the Common Core Standards and accompanying tests. Why does this bother them? I think Principal Elizabeth Phillips of PS 321 said it very well in her recent opinion piece in the New York Times:
In general terms, the tests were confusing, developmentally inappropriate and not well aligned with the Common Core standards. The questions were focused on small details in the passages, rather than on overall comprehension, and many were ambiguous. Children as young as 8 were asked several questions that required rereading four different paragraphs and then deciding which one of those paragraphs best connected to a fifth paragraph. There was a strong emphasis on questions addressing the structure rather than the meaning of the texts. There was also a striking lack of passages with an urban setting. And the tests were too long; none of us can figure out why we need to test for three days to determine how well a child reads and writes…..
….At Public School 321, we entered this year’s testing period doing everything that we were supposed to do as a school. We limited test prep and kept the focus on great instruction. We reassured families that we would avoid stressing out their children, and we did. But we believed that New York State and Pearson would have listened to the extensive feedback they received last year and revised the tests accordingly. We were not naïve enough to think that the tests would be transformed, but we counted on their being slightly improved. It truly was shocking to look at the exams in third, fourth and fifth grade and to see that they were worse than ever. We felt as if we’d been had.
So we have a very lucrative contract with Pearson that has led to another round of high stakes testing that will ultimately be used to evaluate students, teachers, principals and schools, and what we are able to learn does not indicate any substantial improvement over the previous year’s tests — which led to a student scores in NYC and across the state falling off the cliff. If this is the trend, we will see fewer students qualified for middle and high school, more teachers labeled as ineffective and more schools closed as “failures” with charter school operators waiting to take over their space. All based on tests that are poorly aligned with the new standards and reportedly consist of truly eyebrow raising items such as those reported by Principal Phillips.
Meanwhile, New York State Education Commissioner John King, Jr. is quite adamant that the state is “not retreating” from this path. He was accompanied by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who continued his campaign to insult and diminish parents’ concerns about standards and testing by calling the protests “drama and noise.”
Is it any wonder that we’ve reached a place where normally comfortable and affluent parents are protesting? If Common Core advocates want to salvage it in any form whatsoever, they need try things that they have so far found unnecessary: open up a public and balanced dialogue, invite all stakeholders to the process, slow down implementation and increase resources available for teachers, decouple the standards from burdensome and poorly designed testing, address the needs of schools that have high levels of children in poverty, and stop pushing the dire failure narrative on parents who, nationwide, actually like and appreciate the work their children’s teachers are doing.
I personally doubt that Secretary Duncan is able to do this, but I’ve been teaching for 20 years and believe that anyone is capable of learning.