Parents in NYC called on Chancellor Dennis Walcott to pledge not to use this year’s tests to punish students, teachers, or schools.
Change the Stakes (www.changethestakes.org), an activist group comprised of parents, teachers and teacher educators – argues that this year’s tests are so fundamentally flawed that the scores should not be used. Here’s our letter to the Chancellor:
OPEN LETTER TO CHANCELLOR WALCOTT
By Change the Stakes
March 20, 2013
Dear Chancellor Walcott,
In four weeks, public school children across New York City will begin two weeks of intensive, high-stakes standardized testing. Change the Stakes – an organization of parents and educators committed to replacing such tests with more meaningful forms of assessment – urges you to publicly pledge that scores from this year’s state English Language Arts (ELA) and math tests will not be used to penalize students, teachers or schools. The upcoming testing cycle represents an unprecedented grand experiment: the exams, and the standards on which they are based, are new and untested.
Educators, parents and students alike are painfully aware that this is a “transitional year” in the state testing program. Two years ago, New York State adopted its own version of the new national education standards known as the “Common Core” and this year’s tests are the first to be aligned with them. Not only are the standards new and unproven, the heart of the program – the curriculum – is still being developed. Teachers haven’t been given sufficient time to transition students to the new learning standards, yet children are being tested on them next month anyway.
You yourself acknowledge the serious challenges inherent in using scores from the looming April 2013 exams to assess student performance – and presumably, by extension, the performance of teachers and schools. In a recent letter to parents, you state:
“In past years, decisions about summer school were made based on estimates of each student’s performance level on the State tests: 1, 2, 3, or 4. This year, because the tests are new, we cannot predict how the State will determine performance levels.”
If the purpose of your letter was to reassure parents, you did not succeed. As far as we can tell, the letter has had the opposite effect by setting off alarms among parents who weren’t already focused on the sweeping changes taking place. Another Department of Education (DOE) document developed for parents, Tips for Talking with Your Elementary School Child about the Common Core Standards & Changing State Tests, is even more disturbing: it says that young children should be told to expect school work and tests to be more difficult this year and that feelings of struggle, anxiety and nervousness are common reactions. These new pressures are likely to be particularly onerous for English Language Learners.
In short, the DOE has acknowledged the harmful nature of the abrupt transition to the Common Core – in a year when schools and families also endured a devastating hurricane, a bus strike and a mass elementary school shooting in a nearby community – and yet offers only platitudes about how to help children, parents and educators cope.
Given the poorly managed phase-in of the Common Core and the experimental nature of this year’s assessments, we call for you to immediately and publicly announce that:
§ All student promotion decisions will be made on the basis of a range of indicators, including a review of a substantive portfolio of work representative of a child’s academic progress throughout the year.
§ Teachers will not be evaluated on the results of this year’s tests as the scores are not comparable to last year’s.
§ School Progress Reports, which are almost entirely based on student test scores, will be either suspended or significantly changed to incorporate additional evidence of student achievement. No schools will be closed using this year’s test scores.
§ Parents have a right to opt their children out of the tests, as Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky has publicly stated, and the DOE will put in writing procedures about how to do so.
It is unacceptable for city students, teachers and schools to be judged by the results of these new exams, which are unpredictable by your own admission, especially when other means of assessment already exist.
The time has come for the DOE to finally acknowledge and respond to the growing concerns among public school parents about high-stakes testing. The current direction of policies and practices MUST change.
The Members of Change the Stakes