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Education

NYC School Officials Agree That Kindergarten Through Second Grade Is Too Young for Standardized Tests

Now the question is how to get them out of schools.

Photo Credit: Arrecife from Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to getting rid of standardized testing in early grades, the city and the teachers union are on the same page — both want them eliminated from their teacher evaluation plans.

But the two sides, whose toxic relationship seems to have reached new highs in Mayor Bloomberg’s final year in office, are taking different approaches toward achieving the same end goal.

The United Federation of Teachers ratcheted up its latest critique of teacher evaluations [Friday] by joining a statewide coalition that wants to ban standardized tests in any class below third grade. UFT President Michael Mulgrew first raised the issue two weeks ago, arguing that they are developmentally inappropriate because some students can barely hold a pencil, let alone fill in bubble sheets.

“To be using it at these young ages is just ridiculous,” Mulgrew said [Friday] on a conference call with reporters.

In New York City, a small fraction of the city’s roughly 800 elementary schools is supposed to administer the bubble tests this year because of how the city’s evaluation plan was written, though parents at some schools are rebelling against the mandate.

Officials at the Department of Education agree with Mulgrew, but they are hoping a quieter discussion with state education Commissioner John King will lead to a solution. There is optimism that the strategy is working.

“The commissioner has indicated a willingness to look at this issue and consider some flexibility for the current school year,” Polakow-Suransky said.

Polakow-Suransky said he first has to submit an official legal request, which is required whenever the city or the UFT wants the state to interpret or adjust the evaluation plan that King imposed for New York City back in June.

It’s an approach that apparently the union isn’t interested in being a part of, according to Polakow-Suransky.

“We have invited the UFT to jointly submit this clarification and have not heard back,” he said in an email.

Update: The department sent a letter to the state with its request, a copy of which is below.

The issue has its roots in King’s decision, which became necessary because New York City was the lone district in the state unable to negotiate a plan with its local teachers union.

King required all schools to use performance-based reading and math assessments developed by the city for the evaluations. But Polakow-Suransky said he withheld the math assessments for early grades because they were brand new and would have been an unreasonable burden for schools in a school year that was already full of changes.

Most elementary schools had a “default” option to use average growth scores from state tests taken by students in higher grades, but the small number of K-2 schools in New York City were left with the standardized tests as a last-ditch fix.

“Without possibly intending to, [King's decision] created a situation where we had, at the K-2 level, to make a choice between essentially putting out a test that would be mandated for every elementary school in the city, or not putting anything out at all,” Polakow-Suransky said earlier this month.

The state coalition says that a solution for just New York City wouldn’t be good enough because some districts outside of the city were also using the tests. On the conference call, a first grade teacher from Suffolk County said that her evaluation plan required her to administer online tests that were similarly inappropriate.

King said in a statement [Friday] that he agreed with Mulgrew and Polakow-Suransky on the early testing. A spokesman didn’t respond specifically to whether King was open to adjusting the plan for the city’s K-2 schools, but King’s statement suggested it was possible.

“We support the drive to prohibit standardized testing of pre K through 2nd grade students,” King said in an emailed statement. ”We look forward to working together to make sure that children are protected from more testing than is necessary at the local school district level.”

Letter to King

Geoff Decker joined the team in 2011 from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, where he covered Brooklyn schools for NYTimes.com‘s The Local blog and contributed to the New York Times. Geoff studied journalism at Marist College.

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