April 24, 2015

NYSUT calls on Regents to personally review Pearson tests

Source:  NYSUT Media Relations

ALBANY, N.Y. April 24, 2015 - New York State United Teachers today called on members of the Board of Regents to personally review Pearson-developed standardized tests in English language arts and math so they can better address widespread concerns about the appropriateness of certain questions, the length of state tests and their difficulty.

NYSUT President Karen E. Magee said the union is reacting to published reports that this year's ELA tests contained reading passages that were, in some cases, several grades above students' actual grade level and which contained obscure vocabulary words and phrases. Concerns have also been raised about the difficulty of certain math questions. Because teachers are inappropriately - and unlawfully - gagged from discussing the state tests, Magee said it is imperative that the Regents immediately undertake a public review of all the grades 3-8 ELA and math tests, in part to understand the growing anger and frustration among parents and educators."

"The Regents are responsible for this system. They set education policy. They should know what's on these tests. If they read the tests - especially those which have been singled out as egregious examples of Pearson run amok - we believe the Regents will gain a better understanding of why so many parents are frustrated and why NYSUT continues to question their validity," Magee said.

NYSUT Vice President Catalina Fortino added, "The State Education Department and Pearson should not be the only ones to have seen these tests in their entirety. The Regents should review the complete ELA and math tests to better understand parent and educator frustration before making a decision on a new five-year testing contract that will dramatically affect the lives of students."

Fortino said leaked questions, anonymous blogs and published news reports hint at why frustration has been mounting and nearly 200,000 parents opted their children out of the state ELA tests this month. According to reports, the ELA tests, developed under a $32 million contract with Pearson, contained a number of controversial questions, such as:

  • The third-grade ELA test reportedly contained a passage from "Drag Racer," which had a grade-level difficulty of 5.9 and an interest level of 9-12th grade, as well as an allusion to the Aurora Borealis. In addition, teachers anonymously reported one question appeared exactly the same on both the third-grade test and the fifth-grade test.
  • Fourth-graders, who are generally 10 years old, were reportedly required to write about the architectural designs of roller coasters and why cables are used instead of chains.
  • News reports said sixth-graders were asked to read a Jack London story, "That Spot," which included difficult words and obscure phrases such as "beaten curs," "absconders of justice," "savve our cabin," and "let's maroon him."
  • A sixth-grade reading passage references Dutch artist Berndnaut Smilde, and includes this paragraph: As a result, the location of the cloud is an important aspect, as it is the setting for his creation and part of the artwork. In his favorite piece, Nimbus D'Aspremont, the architecture of the D'Aspremont-Lynden Castle in Rekem, Belgium, plays a significant role in the feel of the picture. "The contrast between the original castle and its former use as a military hospital and mental institution is still visible," he writes. "You could say the spaces function as a plinth for the work.

New York State United Teachers is a statewide union with more than 600,000 members in education, human services and health care. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.