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Chancellor Walcott and the New York City Department of Education
52 Chambers St
New York, NY 10007
Dear Chancellor Walcott and the New York City Department of Education,
We, the undersigned educators of the New York City schools, are writing to respectfully request that teachers across New York City not be required to participate in or proctor the Pearson stand-alone field tests that the New York State Education Department plans to administer in most schools this month and next. Our reasons for reaching out to you with this request are many-faceted, and while we will comply with any decision that is made, we would ask that you please consider our concerns with the field tests before coming to a decision.
To begin, many parents have become increasingly frustrated by the use, nature and abundance of standardized tests in our schools. We have seen this personally, in conversations with parents who express their concerns to us as their children’s teachers. And we have also seen it as a city-wide movement, which recently included a group of parents who refused to have their children sit for the New York State ELA and Math exams. This effort by parents, organizing alongside concerned educators through the Grassroots Education Movement’s Change the Stakes committee, was supported by many more parents who said they would like to remove their children from the state exams but were concerned about the consequences. In explaining their reasons for choosing to boycott parents wrote that the increased focus on improving scores has forced teachers less time focussing on “inspiring a love of learning, fostering creativity, or encouraging critical and interdisciplinary thinking.”
Additionally, hundreds of parents organizing with groups such as Time Out from Testing, Change the Stakes and ParentVoicesNY have now submitted letters to principals in schools across New York City stating that they “respectfully request that the school not give the [stand-alone field] tests at all, and that all students benefit from a day of instruction rather than waste yet another day on test-taking.” In the letter, parents cite concerns such as wasted instructional days and the use of their children as guinea pigs for the research purposes of “a for-profit corporation without [their] consent or permission.” We feel that as teachers it is our responsibility to be responsive to the concerns of the parents whose children we serve, and we would like to support this most recent parent effort around the stand-alone field tests.
Secondly, as teachers we agree with parents that excessive testing is damaging to our students. Indeed, the use of standardized tests to make high-stakes decisions about children, teachers and schools has been repeatedly documented by researchers to have negative consequences on children and on their education. We have witnessed worrisome anxiety in the children we are charged with educating as the increased pressure to perform on the state exams affects them. We have seen – and in many cases been forced to comply with – a narrowing of the curriculum and the neglecting of non-tested subjects. We think that the use of time for test preparation as well as the number of days taken up by tests and practice tests is unconscionable. Considering all this, we cannot in good faith subject our students to additional testing days in May and June without at the very least requesting permission to recuse ourselves from this practice on moral grounds.
Finally, we feel that the form and use of the stand-alone field tests are inappropriate for their stated purpose, and we lament the intended long-term strategy of increased “accountability based on tests” of which these field tests are a part. The use of stand-alone field tests for the purpose of norming state exams has been repeatedly criticized by experts. In fact, the NYS Education Department itself blamed stand alone field-testing in part for the need to re-calibrate the cut scores on the 2009 state exams that moved thousands of students across the state from passing to failing. We also know that the field tests are meant to pilot various questions for exams that will then be used as part of the new New York State teacher evaluation system. We feel that the use of test scores in any form to evaluate teachers is inappropriate. The Board on Testing and Assessment of the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences has warned that so-called “value added models” based on test scores cannot be considered fair or reliable enough to make operational decisions about teachers. But even if such models were improved, the consequences of using tests to evaluate teachers will be damaging to students’ education for reasons mentioned previously, and will also have a negative effect on school culture. The money spent on contracts with Pearson and other for-profit companies to develop, field-test and administer these exams should instead be spent on increased resources for classrooms and on supporting the educational and non-educational needs of all children, in particular children living in poverty.
In conclusion, we would like to assert that our request is in no way intended to be insubordinate but instead to raise concerns about the field tests and to respectfully request that educators across New York City not be mandated to participate in tests to which we have moral objections. Teachers need to be empowered to stand up when we recognize injustices done to our students and ourselves, and we need unions that support teachers in taking on such challenges. Indeed, teacher protections and the ability to take collective action against injustice help us protect children. We hope that you will consider our request, and we thank you for your time.
Concerned teachers of the New York City Schools
Endorsed by Movement of Rank-and-file Educators, the social justice caucus of the UFT