Over 500 parents and teachers, children and students, and their supporters gathered April 26 in front of Tweed Courthouse, the headquarters of New York City’s Department of Education, to condemn a week of high-stakes testing based on a curriculum that hasn’t been fully implemented. The theme of the rally was “Our children are NOT a test score!”
The rally was called by two coalitions — Change the Stakes and Time Out from Testing.
All over the United States, testing has been hailed by politicians, media pundits and business leaders as a key tool in improving the “dreadful state of American education.” (island-adv.com, Oct. 27, 2011) We need data to evaluate teachers and schools is the refrain.
But what the data reflect and how they are exploited is often left ambiguous. In reality, the data are used to justify the drive to privatize public education, under the guise of charter schools, to reduce expenses and to justify greater profits for the corporations that produce the tests and the test preparation course materials.
Even on a technical level, one of the largest testing companies, Pearson, has a record going back to 1998 of errors affecting millions of students, according to Bob Schaeffer of fairtest.org. These errors include misgrading graduation and college admissions tests, delaying test score deliveries and wrongly blocking students from graduation due to inaccurate preliminary scores on tests.
Teachers want to do a good job. Many realize there are problems facing education, particularly in New York City with its widespread poverty, inequality, homelessness, school-to-prison pipeline and marginalization of immigrant communities. Teachers say that their effort and impact in educating students is harder to measure than a business making a profit or taking a loss.
Many of the elite private schools in New York have demanded exemption from standardized testing, claiming that it interferes with educating their students and that they have other ways of evaluating what has been learned.
Martha Foote, a parent of a fifth grader at PS 321 in Brooklyn, who attended the rally, says: “High-stakes testing is corrupting and ruining our children’s education. It’s turning our schools into test-prep factories and turning our children away from learning. . . . Parents — from Buffalo to Rockville Center — are saying enough of this insanity. It’s time to bring real learning back into the classroom.” (Change the Stakes press release, April 26)
When John King, State Education Commissioner, spoke at the New York State United Teachers conference April 13 in Washington, D.C., in front of nearly 1,900 delegates, representing more than 600,000 teachers, he claimed that basing the test on the Common Core curriculum “served a valid educational purpose.” This assertion was greeted with a burst of sardonic laughter.
During the question-and-answer session that followed, King was sharply questioned by classroom teachers on the educational validity of giving tests when students are prepared for them. There was general disbelief of King’s claim that the results of these tests would not be used in teacher evaluations or in deciding which schools to close.
The effects of high-stakes testing can be seen very clearly in the admission to New York City’s Stuyvesant High and other selective public high schools and in who gets into the gifted-and-talented programs in kindergartens throughout New York City.
Admissions to elite high schools are based on the results of a single exam. No other city in the country has such a policy. At Stuyvesant, with slightly more than 3,000 students, the city’s most selective high school, the number of Black students fell from 109 in 2000 to 40 in 2012. Only nine have been accepted for the 2013-14 school year.
In 2006, a citywide test for entrance into gifted-and-talented programs in kindergartens was imposed. In 2005, such programs — using selection processes determined by local school districts — were 53 percent Black and Latino/a. In 2012, less than one-third of these programs have students of color, while a host of expensive prep schools has sprung up.