by Jia Lee, MORE Caucus/UFT
Chapter Leader, The Earth School
When the first piece of news, announcing the proposal of legislation that would decouple standardized tests from teacher evaluations, Bill No. A10475, appeared, I was skeptical. As a public elementary special education teacher in New York City, the last eight years (but really since No Child Left Behind in 2001) of test based accountability have been much like living under a gotcha regime. We’ve experienced the systematic underfunding of our schools to the tune of $4.2 billion and the disappearance of: veteran, experienced educators; state mandated programming for physical education, arts and libraries, special education, English as a New Language services; custodial staff and basic supplies; and being left with crumbling infrastructures. While this has been going on, there’s been a ramping up of administrative and managerial priorities in the name of accountability. Many schools abandoned decades of research and training in whole child and developmentally appropriate pedagogy to focus on boosting test score outcomes.
As someone who has been a conscientious objector of high stakes standardized tests and is actively involved in the opt out campaign in our state, the decoupling of standardized tests scores from the teacher evaluation does not get at the root of the issues. It’s a sham, a smoke and mirrors game. The bill actually does not eliminate the state tests but makes it an option and stipulates that districts must collectively bargain for assessments that also require state approval for use in the evaluations of teachers and administrators. A major concern from public school advocates is that this could mean that there will be more testing in the name of accountability. One piece that is glaringly clear for me is there is no mention of eliminating the use of tests scores used to label schools as failing and set on a path of closure. Smoke and mirrors.
82% of schools closed are in high poverty communities. 59% are in predominantly Black and Brown communities as opposed to 4% of predominantly white communities. In fact, we are not just the most segregated in the country, the state has now imposed a practice of divide and conquer, segregate and close.Closures, if you do not know, are based on the test score outcomes. Advocates of test based accountability argue that this bill will undermine the ability to identify inequity. On the contrary, inequity can already be determined based on the rate of free and reduced lunch qualification in schools. These are the same schools that experience the greatest impact of chronic underfunding by the state as determined by the Campaign for Fiscal Equity and a supreme court ruling. Yet, Cuomo, several senators and assembly members, as well as, the teachers’ union have touted the fake decoupling bill as a victory. No, it continues to fail our communities on so many levels because there is actually very little about it that changes anything.