Concerned North Brooklyn parents, teachers, and education activists convened at I.S. 71 on Heyward Street in Williamsburg Wednesday night to voice their opposition toward standardized testing and the pressure it places on school children.
In particular, they addressed concerns about the New York State exams administered to students in grades 3-8 in Mathematics, Science and English.
Led by a panel of local educators and activists, the discussion focused on how parents and teachers can opt out of state issued tests. They talked about various alternatives available to parents, and encouraged them to unite as a whole to oppose standardized testing, which they argued unfairly measures students’ intelligence and puts undue burden on young children.
“I’ve watched the impact of high stakes testing, about the changing curriculum, about the stress on children,” said panelist Brooke Parker, a member of Williamsburg and Greenpoint: Our Public Schools (WAGPOPS) and a mother of three children who are currently enrolled in public school. “I believe in the personal civil right to opt out for whatever reason you want. I truly think that tests don’t get the very difference between our children.”
At present there are no formal options for parents to opt their children out of the state-issued tests, according to the city’s Department of Education. If a student refuses to take a test, alternate means are applied to test the students’ aptitude such as a portfolio assessment, which looks at the student’s class performance throughout the course of the year. These portfolios are usually reviewed by the student’s teacher, principal and by the superintendent to determine if the student should be promoted to the next grade.
Other weaknesses to standardized testing were raised by the panelists, who pointed out that they cover only a few subjects, while ignoring areas like social studies, music, art and languages and that test questions are poorly written with ambiguously phrased questions. They also argued that millions of dollars paid by the State to institutes like Pearson would be better served fixing failing schools.
“These particular high stakes tests are different than the kind of assessments our teachers do everyday in classroom, the people who know them best, who care about them and who can easily pick out their strengths and help them diminish their weaknesses,” said Janine Sopp, a member of Change the Stakes, an organization of parents and educators opposed to the over emphasis on high-stakes test taking. “A testing company does not have the ability to find those subtleties and one score on a test does not make our children.”
Most parents agreed with this assessment and complained about the bitter long hours young children spend in test preparation, and the lack of meaningful engagement they have with their texts.
“My daughter refers to herself as the human dictionary,” said Jessica Murray, whose daughter is in the 4th grade at P.S. 34. “They’re not getting to read proper literature. They weren’t even able to complete a 70 page book because of test prep.”
While most of the parents present at Wednesday’s meeting supported the notion of eliminating standardized testing, they were also concerns about how opting their kids out would affect their ability to get into schools. Standardized tests are one of the barometers schools use for admitting students into middle school, and subsequently high school, making the State Exams in the 4th grade and 7th grade respectively, all the more crucial. The panelists explained that parents could always find schools in their district that didn’t take test scores into consideration, but some parents argued that it limited their options.
“I don’t want to use my kid as a pawn in pushing forward a particular agenda,” said Richard Cabo Jr., a parent who has a 5-year-old studying at P.S. 132. “I’m generally opposed to the notion of standardized tests but I have found that with school zoning it is not so easy to move around schools.”
The group on whole however agreed that standardized testing was not in the best interests of young children. Things might get harder still with the introduction of the Common Core Standards. Scores plummeted when the standards were first implemented in New York last year, and in February this year the Board of Regents voted to push back the full implementation of the standards by five years.
Concerned parents are now looking for legislative help to ease their concerns. Parker has been working with local elected officials, particularly Councilmember Steve Levin. He is expected to introduce a resolution in the City Council within the coming days that will allow parents to officially opt their students out of standardized tests.
Until then panelists encourage parents to unite and opt out of testing in larger numbers to make a greater impact.