June 2012 Issue
May 21, 2012

NYSUT demands end to 'broken' testing system

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United

New York's testing system is broken. Teachers know it. Parents know it. And students know it.

"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," said NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi. "The State Education Department needs to do a better job."

Armed with a resolution overwhelmingly adopted by nearly 2,000 delegates at the union's annual convention, NYSUT is demanding an end to the current system of testing in New York - and calling on SED to reduce the focus on questionable standardized tests in favor of quality measures of student learning that are more "accurate, fair and appropriate."

The union's longstanding concerns over the quality and administration of state assessments go way beyond the problems cited with this year's tests. (See sidebar). In fact, the resolution, called "Student Assessment: Getting it Right," was developed by the union's statewide Board of Directors months before this year's testing cycle, in response to an analysis that documents years of SED missteps.

"For decades, New York teachers have spoken up about chronic concerns with standardized tests," said NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira. "Teachers have repeatedly told SED about problems with this 'one-size-fits-all' approach, and for many years raised concerns about test length, scheduling, content and more. The State Education Department chooses not to listen." NYSUT has a long history of calling for assessments that are reliable, consistent and valid. The need is underscored by the state's continued push to make standardized testing even more high-stakes for students, schools and teachers.

Neira has forwarded a copy of the RA resolution and a strongly worded letter to State Education Commissioner John King and the Board of Regents, noting that frontline educators are growing increasingly frustrated. The resolution cited many ongoing concerns:

  • The over-reliance on standardized state tests for accountability has created more pressure on educators to "teach to the test." This focus on tested subjects has resulted in a narrowing of the curriculum, with students losing out on engaging educational opportunities.
  • Federal testing policies fail to appropriately accommodate the unique needs of English language learners and students with disabilities, resulting in test scores that do not accurately represent students' true progress. NYSUT has repeatedly objected to subjecting ELLs and students with disabilities to grade-level standardized testing. NYSUT has raised concerns about standardized testing that is not developmentally appropriate, including standardized testing for K-2 students.
  • New York state classroom teachers need to be more involved in all aspects of the development of state assessments. Delegates suggested that rather than spending millions on commercially produced, flawed standardized tests, the state could better use the money to invest in programs to help children learn.

Neira's letter noted the state's over-reliance on standardized testing to the exclusion of student learning time is a significant and widespread concern for parents.

The resolution passed at the RA calls on NYSUT to work with advocacy groups and parents to form a coalition urging SED and the Regents to ensure that no single test score will be used to determine a student's performance.

NYSUT has long called for scheduling improvements to minimize instructional disruptions and to speed up scoring and reporting of results.

Neira said the RA resolution underscores the need for performance-based assessments, student portfolios and other assessments that 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. "