NYC principals fight back against state tests

A group of New York City principals said they'll no longer consider the state's standardized tests for admissions.

By Marina Carver, CNN

(CNN) -- A group of 15 New York City principals announced last week that starting with the 2014-2015 school year, they will no longer use state test scores as part of their middle  and high school admissions criteria.
In a letter sent to parents, teachers, principals and education officials, the principals said the tests were “inauthentic” and take away time “for quality instruction and authentic learning and testing.”
This year’s New York state standardized test was introduced as being aligned for the first time with Common Core Standards -- the new national standards that have been adopted in 45 states.  The tests were administered to students in third grade through eighth grade in April and are used by some selective New York middle and high schools when considering admission.
    Common Core encouraged many teachers and administrators at first, including Stacy Goldstein, a principal who signed the letter and the director of School of Future's middle school in Manhattan.
    “We like it because it focuses on critical thinking and reading across a lot of texts,” she said of the education standards. “We were hoping the test itself would reflect more meaningful work, but it didn’t.”
    The principals’ letter expressed that disappointment:  “The length, structure and timing caused many students to rush through the tests in an attempt to finish, get stuck on confusing questions, and not complete the test or even get to more authentic parts like the writing assessment,” they wrote.
    “We’re not just worried about the kids’ scores going down, we’re concerned about the validity of the test itself,” Goldstein added. “We didn’t want this letter interpreted as principals just concerned about the test scores, so we wanted to get it out before the scores are released.”
    Mark Federman, the principal of East Side Community School who also signed the letter, said New York state is afraid to admit that its tests weren’t actually aligned with Common Core standards.
    “Common Core is very new to the country.  Teachers have known about it for a couple years, but most people don’t know what it means, that’s why some sort of debate or discussion needs to take place,” Federman said.
    “We’re not against testing; we were taken aback to see that this test was similar to past tests, so we want an open debate. Release the tests to educators, parents, journalists, so there can be some accountability,” he said.
    The New York City Department of Education seemed prepared for this year's standardized test controversy. “We have said from the beginning that no one school or student would be disadvantaged because the state made the tests harder this year.  Students will be compared to each other and not to previous year’s scores,” NYCDOE press secretary Erin Hughes said.
    In addition to the NYC principals’ letter, a larger group of nearly 50 principals sent a separate letter to New York State Education Commissioner John King requesting a meeting. According to Goldstein, they have not heard back.
    A New York State Education Department spokesman told CNN, “Ever since the Board of Regents and the Commissioner began considering adoption of the Common Core state standards and tests aligned with those standards more than three years ago, they have engaged in constant communication and contact with those individuals and organizations responsible for implementation in the schools.
    “Communication has continued through implementation of the new standards and assessments this year and will continue going forward,” the spokesman said.
      According to King’s office, by law, school admission decisions are left entirely to the discretion of local schools and school districts.  Both Goldstein and Federman’s schools use a number of criteria when evaluating students for admission, including report cards, writing samples, interviews and personal portfolios of school work.
      The debate surrounding standardized testing reaches farther than New York.  After months of protests from teachers and students in Seattle, the school district announced that the state’s Measures of Academic Progress is now optional for high schools.  In California, parents can opt out of standardized tests and keep their children home on test day without penalty. In Pennsylvania, the only legal exemption that would allow kids to sit out the tests is a religious objection, while some school districts in Florida accept a portfolio of school work in place of a test.