Last week, teachers, administrators, students and parents from P.S. 87 on the Upper West Side were among protestors at 31 schools across the city who rallied against the controversial Common Core testing program. Thousands of students opted out of the statewide English language arts test, which many said was full of unclear questions.
The federally mandated tests are for students in grades three through eight. The tests evaluate students’ skills in English language arts and math. “We feel that these exams are really not going to let us know how students are as readers,” PS 87 Principal Monica Berry told the AmNews. “We feel that the test should be a fair test that shows what the students know as readers. I think that they should really look at the test design and the way that they create the questions. If they are looking to find out specific skills, make it straightforward. This way, the test can determine whether the child can do that specific skill.”
Berry suggested that educators should have more input into how the tests are formulated. “I am not saying that this hasn’t been done,” she said. “But it is really important to everyone right now. We have to listen to the educators that are administering the test and use their feedback to help create a better test.”
Berry added, “Over the past few years, as higher stakes have been attached to the tests, we have seen schools devote more time to test prep, leaving less time and fewer resources for instruction in music, the arts, social studies and physical education.”
The lack of transparency was just one of the driving forces that led the teachers and hundreds of their supporters to call for a protest rally. Some believe the tests disrupt the teacher-student relationship.
“The role of testing has over-stripped everything else that is important in education,” said protestor and community activist Mark N. Diller. “We have wonderful teachers that are wonderfully gifted. They bring all the richness that education can bring us. Great education is one of the bedrocks of a sustainable community. We can’t have a community that survives and grows without great public education.” His son graduated from P.S. 87 in 2005.
New York’s education commissioner, John King, stands by Common Core.
“New Common Core tests are a better reflection of the skills students need to succeed in college and careers,” said King. “We are absolutely committed to the Common Core. The challenge for the city is to make sure the review of the student work process is as authentic and meaningful as possible and that the tests are indeed one of the multiple measures alongside that portfolio of student work.”
Despite all the issues with the ELA test, administrators said they are not against the high standards set by Common Core or by standardized testing in general. State Education Department spokesman Tom Dunn denied that any questions on the English tests were ambiguous. According to Dunn, each question had one correct answer, but students had to carefully distinguish between “the fully correct option and the plausible but incorrect options.”
The U.S. Department of Education tells students that opting out can hurt a school’s ability to meet the 95 percent test-preparation rate required by law. A spokesman for the New York State Department of Education said they do not yet know how many students refused to take the test, but state officials said more than 1 million students opted to take the test.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the Common Core assessments are flawed and have caused anxiety for students and teachers. Common Core–aligned test scores will remain off transcripts through 2018. School districts would be prevented from using the scores to determine student placement.