Friday, April 20, 2012

Test Protests Grow as Brooklyn Principal Takes the Lead

I've always maintained that the ed deform agenda is so viciously anti-child and anti-teacher and anti-parent that it will eventually collapse under its own weight of failure. Of course we will lose a generation of students, ruin careers of a generation of teachers and destroy entire swaths of the public school system before we begin to hear echos of that famous "What have I done" quote from the end of Bridge on the River Kwai. (See clip here or below). I'm also reminded of a memorable B film I saw as a child - The Magnetic Monster. We will win in the end.

GEM has been deeply involved in the battle against high stakes tests (where's the UFT, which I consider the biggest obstacle in creating an effective fight back) though its prolific Change the Stakes committee with the listserve over the past week going wild with parents and teachers chipping in on the awful tests. (You can join the listserve by signing up at the blog but warning -- the volume is high but so many amazing people).

The prolific Mark Naison posted this:

Thank you Pearson for some of the Worst Tests in History Being Administered in NY State Public Schools!

Too bad the content of recent NY State 3rd to 8th Grade tests is being withheld from the public because from what I hear they would make great material for Saturday Night Live, if not Saturday Night Fever. The idea that that teachers will be evaluated, and students promoted or held back on the basis of these ill designed tests strains credulity. We owe a huge debt of gratitude to Pearson for designing tests that are so ambiguous, illogical and culturally biased that they discredit the entire New York State Department of Education, which paid 32 million dollars for these tests, and the US Department of Education, which required they use them to evaluate teachers in order to receive Race to the Top funding.
Yes, Pearson is coming under severe attack for making money on the backs of our kids while producing inferior products. You don't hear Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein talking about it's all about the adults -- that is only reserved for unions. Fred Smith has been posting on the list serve about the use of our kids as guinea pigs to field test questions with a whole battery coming in June. 

Years ago a teacher was fired for inciting a revolt in his 8th grade kids against these useless June tests where 4 entire classes refused to take the tests (Testing, Teachers and the UFT: An Historical View).

There is a lot of rumbling from parents about boycotting these puppies given that refusing to take these tests will have no impact on the schools (other than pressure from Tweed). And there will be growing pressure to have the tests published. And if not, there is an underground crew apparently copying for underground publication as a way of undermining the testing industry. Remember George Schmidt was fired from the Chicago school system for publishing and exposing the ridiculous CASE tests -- the public exposure led to their abolition and George should have been lauded as a hero and given a raise -- of course he is a hero to generations of teacher activists.

Valerie Strauss has a piece about the growing protests.

Elizabeth Phillips, Mark Naison's wife, is one principal in NYC who stands up. She also protested the use of teacher data reports. Here is her letter to John "I never met a charter I didn't like" King, the ed deform front man for NY State, joining a despicable succession of state ed commissioners.

P.S. 321                                                                   
180 Seventh Avenue • Brooklyn, New York 11215                     • 718-499-2412 • FAX: 718-965-9605 
• Elizabeth Phillips, Principal                                               • Beth Handman, Assistant Principal
• Elizabeth Garraway, Assistant Principal                                   • Ryan Bourke, Assistant Principal
April 19, 2012
Dr. John B. King Jr.
New York State Education Commissioner
New York State Education Department
89 Washington Avenue
Albany, New York 12234
Dear Commissioner King:
I urge you to carefully review this year’s state ELA exams.  I have been principal for 13 years and have read the tests each year.  Although there are always issues with selected questions, generally it is only one or two per test that the assistant principals and I can’t quite agree on.  I am genuinely shocked that with the increased importance of state testing,  there are so many more flawed questions than ever before.  I wish I could go into detail here, but it violates test security for me to discuss the content of the tests or the questions, which is why I feel so strongly that it is important that you see these tests for yourselves. 
In particular, I would recommend that you carefully read through day one of the fifth grade ELA.   The reading passages themselves are not too challenging—surprising since the passages in the 4th grade test were not particularly easy and the Common Core Standards call for more rigor.  However, the questions were nothing short of ridiculous.  Several of them were ambiguous and seemed designed only to trick children (and adults….the answers were not clear to many of us).  Overall, the questions did not serve to determine whether or not children had good reading comprehension skills.   You could have excellent comprehension skills and miss many questions.  Although to me the fifth grade was the most outrageous of the elementary school exams, there were problems with the other exams too.  It is puzzling to me that in 2012 in New York State, a testing company that won the lucrative contract to develop these exams did not think it was important, on day one (the most heavily weighted day) of the 4th grade exam, to include any selections that were in urban settings.  Children who spend a lot of time outdoors and in rural or suburban settings definitely will find “friendlier” texts, both fiction and nonfiction.   Take a look so you can see what I mean.  Fortunately, day two is better in this regard.
I would also urge you to actually do the listening section of grade 3 (first part of day 2).  Have someone read aloud this incredibly thin, brief passage two times as required and then see if you can answer the questions, including the short and extended responses, without looking at the text (since kids are not permitted to look at this text).  The questions are not really ones that you can answer well from the text, even if it is sitting in front of you and you can refer back. 
Because I am an elementary school principal, I do not see the middle school exams.  However, a middle school principal from outside of New York City wrote this to me after day one:  “As I reviewed the exams for the sixth through eighth grade yesterday, I was appalled. I felt that sixth grade was the most difficult of the three exams, followed by eighth, with the most fair exam being the seventh grade. There were so many questions that contained answer choices where the ELA teachers could not decide which answer would be 'best'. I felt terrible for my children, especially for my English Language Learners and my special education students.”  And 8th graders, who really can’t be controlled in terms of not talking about the test, are having a field day on the internet mocking what appears to be one of the most ridiculous selections ever included on a test! 
These exams are so deeply flawed, and now so incredibly high stakes.  The idea that teachers may lose their jobs and schools (at least in New York City) may be closed based on how children do on these problematic exams is incredibly upsetting and demoralizing to educators.  The fact that the state has decided that these exams can never be made public just exacerbates the problem, as the general public will never know how silly the exams are.   And, to use an “added value” measure on tests that are not consistently more difficult from year to year is another serious problem. 
I understand that you are very busy, but given the importance of the state tests at this time, it is absolutely critical that you analyze them carefully.  If you agree with my assessment, I hope that you will consider recommending to the State Legislature that given the flaws in the tests, we are not yet ready to use them for high stakes decision making.  I also hope you will consider making these exams public after the test scoring is completed.  It is ironic that teachers’ individual ratings are made public while the actual test that determines those ratings is not.  I know that the state already has a long-term contract with Pearson, but there is something seriously wrong with a testing company that has such inappropriate questions and passages on such a high stakes test. 
Thank you for considering all this.  Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.
Elizabeth Phillips


Anonymous said...

A bit of transparency and accountability,no? Interesting how Pearson,King,Tisch,Cuomo,Klein,Bloomberg,Walcott, Rhee and the E4E shills have none whatsoever, yet ram it down the throats of the teachers and students.The hypocrisy is as stunning as it is unsurprising.

Michael Fiorillo said...

As long as you're making film references, here's one from "The Seven Samurai" by Kurasawa: "Selfish men destroy themselves and others."

Anonymous said...

Yes...accountability...Bloomberg now wants to require landlords to publicly disclose if their tenants are allowed to smoke IN THEIR OWN APARTMENTS...while he jets around often in his private jets-pollution anyone?
Bloomberg ALSO is Wall Street's greatest supporter...and we all know how accountable they've been...
Have you heard Bloomberg screeching for John Corzine's "accountability"? 'Ol John's firm just stole outright over 1 BILLION dollars from customer THAT'S TRUE accountability. I hear John is building a beautiful house in the south of France, as we speak. Now that's HARSH accountability.
Soon all new cars will be equipped with "black boxes" (starting 2015) which will keep ironclad records and reports on all of our travels. We may be even forced to "login" with iris scans before being allowed to drive off. If you owe any back taxes, owe parking tickets, or are guilty of any other infractions, the black box will "turn you in" and suspend your passports and other crucial documents. Recently, work was completed on a huge facility in the Utah desert which will monitor ALL cell phone calls, emails, landline calls, and every other damned thing you do regarding communications . . . yet Bloomberg REFUSES to release the facts on his failed 911 call system debacle. He also refuses to release those emails to the UFT...People...don't you realize ( and I know many do) that we are living out a VERY bad nightmare in a barren shithole that once used to be called America...? We are FORBIDDEN to publicise and comment on the testing that our children are being subjected to-UNDER PENALTY OF LOSING OUR JOBS!!! It has to be a big secret? WHY? Where in God's name are we living? HOW are we living? This has gone TOOOO FAR !!! Who are these people? How have they gotten this power? And all this under a DEMOCRATIC GOVERNOR? 1984 . . . 1984 . . . 1984 . . . over an out...Orwell is doing cartwheels in his casket right now...Oh...and of course "The Press" is highly accountable by constantly reporting on all of the pertinent issues of the the size of Derek Jeter's bachelor pad...and Lindsay Lohan's bar fights...and the size of some hooker's bra in Columbia...but what about John Corzine? What about the constant, unending warfare, killing hundreds of thousands of innocents all around the world. What about the bailouts of corporate pirates like AIG, Goldman, and others...? We are in hell...and it's getting worse. START CALLING YOUR Fn CONGRESSMEN ABOUT THIS CHILLING TESTING SCENARIO PRONTO...AND DI T AT THE TOP OF YOUR Fn LUNGS....!

Anonymous said...

So Pearson is making 34 MILLION BUCKS in NYS ALONE for creating these tests? Do I have that correct? Or are they making 34 mill. nationally?

Anonymous said...

just this one NYSED contract

Anonymous said...

Bravo Liz Phillips! As one of the most well-respected principals in Brooklyn, I truly hope her concerns are heard by John King.

I am a teacher in NYC and can assure you that the 5th grade test was a joke. Multiple 4th grade-level reading passages, multiple "trick" questions (with no clear answer to teachers!). Worst of all, there was a critical MISTAKE on the Day 3 essay question. I won't go into more detail but you 5th grade teachers know what I'm talking about!

Parents--I urge you to STAND UP for YOUR CHILDREN against this inane, profit-driven business enterprise disguised as "ed reform."

Gwenyth Jackaway said...

But what exactly can we do?? What does it mean to stand up for our children? What options do we have?

Gwenyth Jackaway said...

But what exactly can we do?? What does it mean to stand up for our children? What options do we have?

james said...

Have you heard Bloomberg screeching for John Corzine's "accountability"? 'Ol John's firm just stole outright over 1 BILLION dollars from customer THAT'S TRUE accountability. I hear John is building a beautiful house in the south of France, as we speak. Now that's HARSH accountability.