We, the Brooklyn New School Leadership Team, call for a moratorium on high-stakes testing in New York State.
As parents and educators, we don’t object to assessment, when used properly. As currently practiced in grades 3-8, however, New York’s testing program is narrowing the curriculum and, often, unfairly punishing teachers for good teaching. It’s also a huge waste of money. This is unacceptable and our children deserve better.
No credible researchers believe that tying student test scores to teacher evaluations makes any sense. There are too many variables: did a child eat breakfast? What is her family income? Is she bored when taking this test? And there are, in any case, too few children involved to tease out any statistical trends; while standardized tests may be a fine way to see how, for example, kids in the United States fare at math compared to kids in Singapore, they tell us little about how teacher A compares to teacher B, since one or two kids will dramatically alter the average.
Attempts to measure student progress by test scores are further muddied by the fact that the tests change so much from year to year that even looking at the same student from one year to the next produces “apples to oranges” confusion.
According to misguided ideas about what these tests mean, in prior years some of our school’s best teachers performed “poorly.” We wish we could say we were surprised, but we already knew that student “progress” on test scores tells us precious little about a teacher’s work.
At our school, we don’t measure learning by looking at data: we see it every day. We see learning on stage when our fifth graders demonstrate their amazing stage presence and theatrical skills after weeks of practice in the school-wide talent show. We see it when our fourth-graders lift their well-trained voices and sing at the local tree-lighting ceremony. We see it when students reason through math problems and begin to write essays. And when, after being out of school for a week during Hurricane Sandy, a third grader is disappointed to miss yet another day of school for November parent-teacher conferences.
High-stakes testing – making decisions about teachers, schools and funding based on student test scores – produces all the wrong incentives. At a public forum on the issue held at our school last spring, parents and teachers from all over the city described an environment in which children spend hours a day on test prep, all year long. What is lost in this rush to make the numbers look good? At our forum, one parent in Queens said her kindergartner has never been on a field trip. A middle school in Brooklyn is scrapping some of its arts-based afterschool programs to make time for more afterschool test prep. All over the state, science, social studies, music and art classes are suffering as schools rush to improve their math and reading test scores.
Finally, New York State’s testing program leaches millions of dollars a year from our schools. While our PTA must raise money for such basics as substitute teachers, many public schools in Brooklyn don’t even have enough money in their budgets to buy books. Such scarcity is not purely academic: in neighborhoods afflicted by diabetes and child obesity, many schools can’t afford a gym teacher. Imagine what our schools could do with the millions currently being shoveled into unproven testing by the Pearson Company. A moratorium on testing would free up taxpayer funds that the testing industry has been allowed to squander for much too long.
We hope many more parent and teacher representatives will join us in calling for this moratorium. A growing number of parents and educators around New York City have been organizing on the issue, with some parents even opting their children out of the tests. We hope that our policymakers will hear us – and we plan to do everything we can to make them listen.