Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sign the Open Letter from Teachers: We Support the Field Test Boycott

The Change the Stakes high stakes testing arm of GEM has been working on this for weeks, led by the always awesome 4th year teacher Liza Campbell (who, sniff, sniff, is leaving us and moving to Seattle where the people battling ed deform will be lucky to get her).

We started this committee almost a year ago and lots of parents have joined us along with some teachers. But too many teachers even though under the gun of HST which drives the ed deform movement aren't making all the connections, especially with the UFT/AFT being passive, with our ability to create a movement to challenge it. Note how much the failure of high stakes testing have been in the news, from the flawed teacher data reports to pineapplegate. Some of that has been due to the work of groups like Change the Stakes along with a new group based in Brooklyn called ParentVoices/NYC led by Michael Ravitch (Diane's son) and the venerable Time Out for Testing (TOFT) which has been doing this stuff for a long time. Lots more coming over the next few days.

One more thing. Some people objected to petitioning Walcott -- calling it "begging" or going around the UFT. There is a political point in doing this --- no one expects a result. It is about teachers, who are really helpless in many ways, showing support for our parent allies who will be doing the heavy lifting in boycotting both tests that "count" and these useless field tests. This is a political action, not a plea to Walcott.

One GEMer made these points
The idea that we should not "ask our oppressor" for anything is not something I would ever agree with... The act of "the asking" is not actually about "asking", its a way of publicizing and using our voice and educating-- "we have to do this against our will, but we don't want to, here is why and you shouldn't make us and if we had a stronger union, maybe we wouldn't  have to"-- there are numerous benefits to getting this message out there.  The beautiful letter Liza wrote was not about asking permission, it was making a point, educating others.

To sign, simply click the link at the bottom of the page which will take you to the MORE site where the letter is posted.

May 2012

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 

1 comment:

  1. "...led by 4th year teacher Liza Campbell (who, sniff, sniff, is leaving us and moving to Seattle where the people battling ed deform will be lucky to get her)."

    There in lies the reason the opposition (and union in general) has so much trouble in NYC. Young teachers just want out.


Comments are welcome. Irrelevant and abusive comments will be deleted, as will all commercial links. Comment moderation is on, so if your comment does not appear it is because I have not been at my computer (I do not do cell phone moderating). Or because your comment is irrelevant or idiotic.