Eden teacher Mark Vona got right to the point: "We as music teachers know testing is the driving force behind the narrowing of the curriculum."
Donna Walters of Erie 1 BOCES, who works with short-term incarcerated youth, emphasized the state's unrealistic expectation for pre- and post-testing of students for whom "9.6 days is the average length of stay."
And Adam Zicardi, president of the Orchard Park Teachers Association, talked about a parents' night on authentic assessment based on NYSUT's Student Assessment Toolkit.
"It was very well received," he said, noting that parents are increasingly concerned about the negative impacts of the state's over-reliance on standardized tests.
They were among more than 600 NYSUT members who participated in the inspiring inaugural event of NYSUT's "Tell It Like It Is" listening tour, which is providing additional opportunities for members across the state to dialogue with NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi and Vice President Maria Neira.
The event, held at University at Buffalo, was well-received by participants, with some of them tweeting (see right column) during and after the dialogue to say it inspired their hope and confidence that the union would prevail in convincing the state to "do it right" on testing. Members also spoke of urgent budget issues, such as the need for more state support for higher education, teacher centers and BOCES.
The tour complements the union's online "Tell It Like It Is" campaign, in which thousands of members continue to blanket State Education Commissioner John King and the Board of Regents with letters that give a view from the trenches and offer solutions to the harm caused by the obsession with testing.
The "Tell It" campaign and tour and the statewide union's leadership on testing are all the direct result of NYSUT listening to members and local leaders, and then in turn advancing their voices through advocacy and action.
"The voice of our profession is at the core of the work NYSUT has done," Neira said. "So many of the armchair reformers ignore the power and expertise we bring to the profession. They are trying to eliminate the voice of the practitioner. We work at ensuring we are part of the conversation. 'Tell It Like It Is' is an expression of how we value our members' expertise."
Neira told members that their letters are having a real impact.
"The commissioner keeps asking me: Could you stop sending 100 letters a day?" Neira said, adding that several Regents have told her they not only have read the letters, "they make sense."
Iannuzzi spoke of the union's "very conscious, very careful" decision to establish New York as the only state in the nation where collective bargaining governs fully 80 percent of evaluations instead of what had previously been imposed by the unfettered authority of the commissioner.
"What we did was create through collective bargaining local voice and local control," Neira said. Without a doubt, "it has been a messy process and is very frustrating for all of us to see educational decisions that are harmful to our students being driven by non-educators — people without classroom experience."
For example, Iannuzzi said, "there is no educator in this room who would do an assessment before you did the instruction," even though that is what the state is doing by testing students on new Common Core curriculum before it has been fully rolled out.
NYSUT is pressing the state to acknowledge and address the problems caused by its rocky phase-in of the Common Core curriculum.
"We're very public about our position that this year's assessments should not be used against students or our members, but as a benchmark for the state's own outcomes in rolling out Common Core curriculum for all students," Neira said.
NYSUT has called for the state and local school boards to reduce the number and length of tests, as well as to re-evaluate the amount of instructional time and financial resources lost to maintain the current testing framework.
Members took to microphones to say how essential NYSUT's ongoing advocacy is. Moderator Peter Stuhlmiller, Kenmore Teachers Association president, noted that an outgrowth of the dialogue will be "for us all to continue to work together and effect change."
Pointing to an AFT button on his lapel, he said, "The pins we're wearing ring true for all of us: Learning is more than a test score."
Going forward, "Share the info you receive tonight with other members of your locals," said Ronald Sesnie, president of the Tonawanda TA.
And of course, use NYSUT's online vehicle to "Tell It Like It Is," and urge your colleagues to do the same.