As the Board of Regents met inside, NYSUT local union leaders and state lawmakers stood on the steps of the State Education Department on Monday to demand major changes to the state’s grades 3–8 testing system.
“We’re here today because the state education department has a lot of explaining to do,” said NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango. She said last week’s grades 3–8 ELA testing was nothing short of disaster — with widespread computer crashes and exams that continue to be too long and developmentally inappropriate.
“Stories from teachers, parents and students continue to flood into NYSUT and the Board of Regents,” DiBrango said. “Students as young as 8 and 9 years old sitting for four to six hours in front of a test we know is flawed. Intimidation tactics and pressure (to discourage opt-outs and force students to take tests), even though parents have a right to refuse them.”
“It’s unbelievable that we’re here — not to talk about more funding or programs, but to talk about a debacle in testing,” said NYSUT President Andy Pallotta. “It is ludicrous. It must end.”
The NYSUT leaders were joined by a number of area teachers who described how damaging the testing experience has been for their students.
“When we turn writing a paragraph or solving a math equation into an anxiety-inducing situation, we’re sending the wrong message to our students,” said Juliet Benaquisto, president of the Schenectady Federation of Teachers. She said elementary students sat for 1.5 hours unable to log in and others were unable to submit their work.
“My third-graders were breaking down in tears in frustration and falling asleep because of the length of the test,” said Natalie McKay (pictured above), president of the Schoharie Teachers Association. “Many were sitting more than 3.5 hours — that’s longer than the SAT college entrance exam!”
For McKay’s students, who are only 8 and 9 years old, the ELA exam is more a test of their endurance, than the content. “It crumbles their confidence and leaves them feeling completely dejected,” McKay said. “And the tests are so developmentally inappropriate, they’re not even showing what they can do.”
“These state tests go against everything we know about teaching and learning,” said Laura Franz, president of the Albany Public School Teachers Association. While state testing may be federally mandated, it doesn’t have to be like this, she said.
Saranac Lake TA President Don Carlisto, a member of the NYSUT Board of Directors, noted it appears Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia has forgotten her own concerns about computer-based testing.
Carlisto quoted from a 2014 newspaper story when Elia was Hillsborough County Florida Superintendent of Schools. At the time, Elia said: “Many students lack the computer skills to write essays and complete other parts of the online tests,” Carlisto noted. She added: ”School districts… don’t have all the resources they need to give computerized testing” and “confidence in the school accountability system hangs in the balance.”
“Superintendent Elia understood the limitations of computer-based testing to accurately show student performance,” Carlisto said. “Superintendent Elia knew a reckless rush to implement computer-based assessments could lead to invalid conclusions about school quality.”
Yet, as commissioner of the New York State Education Department, Elia “is now such a proponent of taking tests on computers that she upholds them as the foundation of an accountability system that mislabels students and schools as failures,” Carlisto said.
The news conference comes a week after NYSUT launched the “Correct the Tests” campaign to raise awareness of the serious issues surrounding the grades 3–8 ELA and math tests. The event also featured a number of Assembly members who said it is time for the State Education Department to overhaul its testing system — or expect legislative action.
“We’ve heard all the compelling stories from students, teachers, family members,” said Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Chateaugay. “We need to correct the tests. It’s as simple as that.”
“We’re not going to let this continue,” said Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, who noted his office has fielded numerous calls from parents, educators and students. “We need to push back and put a stop to it now.”
Assemblyman Phil Steck, D-Colonie, said SED’s current standardized testing program is destroying the “love of learning” and has clearly failed. He noted SED would be wise to follow the lead of many colleges that are now abandoning standardized testing as an entrance requirement. “We need to end this experiment,” he said. “It has clearly failed.”
DiBrango said the union is urging educators and parents to go to correctthetests.com to learn more about the union’s campaign, share their stories about testing and send messages to the Regents demanding action.
She noted the commissioner last week said she regretted the difficulties surrounding the tests for both students and educators — but offered no meaningful changes or solutions for the long-term. “Regrets are not enough,” DiBrango said. “We need action.”