NY State Under Fire Over Standardized Tests

April 13, 2014 Updated: October 8, 2018

NEW YORK—Standardized testing at New York state public schools has been under a barrage of criticism since this year’s testing season started.

First, more than 33,000 children across the state opted-out from the English language arts assessment, administered to grades three to eight two weeks ago. Their parents disagreed with the way the test results are used. Specifically, the parents didn’t want their children being promoted to the next grade based solely on test scores. 

They also disliked how test score results affected teacher and school evaluations.

The state has addressed the first part of the parent’s concern, passing in this year’s budget a mandate that test scores cannot be a primary factor in middle school grade promotion.

Yet another problem arose—a growing number of schools found the last English test sub-par in quality.

Liz Phillips, a principal P.S. 321, was among the first to raise her voice. On April 4, she led parents and teachers from her Park Slope school to protest the quality of the test.

A week later, two principals rallied 37 schools from Manhattan to show their dissatisfaction too. “[O]fficials were dismissing the importance” of the message the Park Slope protest sent, stated a letter about the protest circulated among schools and parents.

“Our real fear and risk is that this will angle teachers towards teaching more narrowly and in less relevant ways,” said Lisa Ripperger, the principal at P.S. 234. She also led about 100 parents, students, and teachers to march and chant slogans in front of their school in Tribeca.

Issues With the Test

Ripperger was one of the organizers of the last protest. She said there are two main issues with the English test.

The first is that the test was not well aligned to the Common Core standards. Common Core is a set of learning standards, mainly for English and math, adopted by 45 states with a goal of better preparing students for college and careers. It places emphasis on critical thinking, supporting claims with evidence, and exploring multiple ways to reach correct answers.

Teachers are not allowed to disclose the actual content of the tests, but Ripperger said the last English test didn’t do a good job addressing the ideals of the Common Core.

She thinks the current tests may push schools away from adopting the standards. “If teachers see that, they won’t actually teach towards the big goals of the Common Core,” she said.

The second issue is transparency. Parents and teachers never see what the children answered right or wrong and where they need to improve. 

“When these tests are taken, they’ll never come back here,” Ripperger said. 

Education publishing giant Pearson received $37 million in a five-year state contract for the tests. State Education Commissioner John King said it would cost millions more for all the test questions to be released, since more questions would have to be created each year.

The tests were also criticized for being too long and some questions for being confusing or repetitive. King briefly addressed the quality of the test in his speech last week, saying the tests are not perfect, but better than what the state used to have.

Parents’ Perspective

Based on several conversations, P.S. 234 parents and students weren’t that much concerned over the test and participated in the protest more to support their school. Part of the reason may be that students there generally do well on tests.

Parents confirmed that the test scores they received in June have been little use to them in telling how their children have improved, or what they need to improve on.

“We all want better education for our children,” said Giovanna Rosselli, a mother of three. “If this is a waste of resources, a waste of time, and is not a proper tool to evaluate, we need to change it.” 

Roselli’s oldest child, Lucas, is in fifth grade at P.S. 234. He told her the test was a little bit confusing and he was barely able to finish it on time.

Patty Fink has a daughter in the third grade. 

“From what I’ve been told the test is not reflective of Common Core,” Fink said. “I also think it would be helpful, after the test comes out, to see where our mistakes were.” 

Her daughter told her the test was easier than she expected. 

“But who knows? Because we don’t have the test scores yet,” Fink said.

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