Teachers and Staff at International High School at
Prospect Heights Refuse To Administer the NYC ELA Performance Assessment Test
New York – On Thursday, May 1, 2014, most of the teachers at International High School at Prospect Heights gathered on the steps of their school to announce that they will not give the NYC English Language Arts Performance Assessment Exam. More than 50% of parents have opted their students out of taking the test, and 30 teachers and staff refused to administer the exam citing professional and ethical concerns. Approximately 95% of the students at IHSPH are English Language Learners. Thirty-five percent of students are classified as Students with Interrupted Formal Education (SIFE), meaning they have missed more than one year of school.
The test is not used for promotion and does not factor into student grades. The test has not been aligned to assess English Language Learners and will be used exclusively for the purpose of evaluating teachers.
Teachers are refusing to give the test today because they say it was constructed and formatted without any thought for the 14% of New York City students for whom English is not their first language. Teresa Edwards-Lasose, a parent who opted her student out, said, “The test is meaningless. He (her child) doesn’t read and write enough English yet to do the test and it doesn’t count for his grades. Why should he take it?”
The level of English used on the exam is so far above the language levels of the school’s recent immigrant student population that it provides little or no information about their language or academic proficiencies. Despite students’ best efforts and determination, the vast majority of them received zero points.
Anita Feingold-Shaw, a 9th and 10th grade English teacher at IHSPH said, “This test doesn’t benefit students, but it definitely hurts them and that feels unfair.” Many of the students that took the test in the fall did not yet read or write in English. And yet, this test asked them to read pages and pages with no translation support and write an argumentative essay in English.
“I watched students just put their heads down and give up. A few students even cried,” says Emily Wendlake, another 9th and 10th grade English teacher at the school. “Testing experiences like this make our students feel like failures, and that school is not for them. We feel the consequences in our classes for the rest of the year.”
Their action happens to fall on May Day, which in New York City, has become a day where the demands of immigrant rights are center stage. Their decision to abstain from the test, they say, is ultimately one of educational justice for their immigrant student population. “Our students deserve every second of class time to be engaging, meaningful and relevant to their lives. This test is the opposite – oppressive, irrelevant to their learning and demoralizing,” said Giles, a science teacher at the school. “Why wouldn’t we refuse to give it?”
Teachers at Prospect Heights draw a connection between the struggles of English Language Learners and immigrant rights. This is not the first time that the school community has organized around the rights of their students. Last year, after watching many of their top students unable to attend college because of financial constraints, teachers created the International Dreamers Scholarship Fund. The fund provides scholarships to undocumented students that cannot receive government funding for higher education. Last year the school community raised $35,000 and provided full scholarships to two undocumented students.
Ultimately, they’re asking that Chancellor Fariña reconsider the use of this assessment with English Language Learners in favor of measurements created by teachers.
The International High School at Prospect Heights is a public high school located in Brooklyn, NY. Read their letter to Chancellor Farina at http://www.standupoptout.wordpress.com