ALBANY, N.Y. April 27, 2012 - Acting decisively to give voice to the pain and frustration that students and teachers are experiencing over state testing, the 600,000-member New York State United Teachers today called for an end to the state's current testing system which it said is harming children and hindering real learning.
In a resolution overwhelmingly adopted by more than 2,000 delegates to its Representative Assembly in Buffalo, NYSUT urged the State Education Department to reduce the focus on questionable standardized tests in favor of other measures of student learning that are more "accurate, fair and appropriate."
"New York's testing system is broken. Teachers know it. Parents know it. And students know it," said NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi. "The State Education Department is not doing its job. Students and teachers deserve tests that are fair, valid and reliable, and are appropriate measures of what's happening in classrooms in every corner of the state. Enough is enough."
Even before the dust had settled on the latest testing debacle - which includes a math question with two correct answers; another math question with no correct answer; and a widely ridiculed reading passage about a talking pineapple that confounded even the all-time Jeopardy champion - teachers from across the state were sharing poignant stories of New York's testing system run amok. Among them:
Teachers reported students breaking out in tears, becoming restless over the excessive length of the tests, and expressing frustration over consecutive days spent on testing. Teachers questioned the scheduling of the English language arts test so soon after the April recess, especially after warnings it would create unneeded anxiety.
Many special education teachers expressed angst over their students being required to sit through 90 minutes of grade-level tests beyond their ability and the goals of their own Individualized Education Plans (IEPs). One teacher said she could only tell her student with special needs to "do your best" as he struggled with a seventh-grade math test, even though his education goal for the year was to master fifth-grade math skills.
Teachers said too many administrators, concerned about the ramifications of lower-than-expected scores, are stressing "test prep" at the expense of real learning. Teachers report three to four weeks of quality instruction are being lost to the "drill and kill" of test prep and increased pressure to "teach to the test."
Teachers told NYSUT leaders that the state's over-reliance on testing is undermining parental support. More and more parents, teachers said, are questioning why their children must sit through hours upon hours of test prep and testing, just to affirm what they believe they already know about teachers, schools and their own children.
Teachers detailed to NYSUT their concerns about factors beyond the control of public schools, such as poverty, hunger, student attendance, parental involvement and the lack of community resources for schools.
Many noted that New York state has now spent more than $32 million of taxpayers' dollars on commercially produced, flawed standardized tests, and that these funds could be invested in programs to help children. They said the money is being diverted to testing companies that are profiting off the explosion of standardized testing and the use of data to measure student, teacher, principal and school performance.
"What teachers are saying - and what we are increasingly hearing from parents - can be summed up in just a few words: Children are more than test scores," NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira said. "Teachers have repeatedly told the State Education Department about problems with this 'one-size-fits-all' approach, and raised concerns about test length, scheduling, content and more. The State Education Department chooses not to listen." She further noted that, contrary to some reports, teachers have no approval role in the state's selection of standardized tests.
NYSUT said ending the current testing system in favor of more accurate, fair and appropriate assessments would strengthen New York's new teacher/principal evaluation law by bolstering confidence in the way the State Education Department measures performance. Such tests would include performance-based assessments, student portfolios and other assessments that would allow students to demonstrate the knowledge and skills they have mastered throughout the year, and which could also be used to more reliably evaluate teacher and principal effectiveness.
"Teachers embrace accountability, including New York's new teacher/principal evaluation law. It sets the framework for a comprehensive, rigorous and fair system that uses tests appropriately as one of multiple measures of student achievement," Iannuzzi said."If tests are going to be used to evaluate teachers and administrators, close schools and award competitive grants to school districts, there must be public confidence that tests are accurate, reliable and fair. The State Education Department has a lot of work to do to restore the public's trust."
NYSUT, the state's largest union, represents more than 600,000 teachers, school-related professionals, academic and professional faculty in higher education, professionals in education and health care and retirees. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.