The evening of April 10, 2014, I attended the District 19 (East New York, Brooklyn) Community Education Council (CEC) meeting with Carmen Fariña, the new chancellor of the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE). Chancellor Fariña spoke for about 20 minutes before community members took turns voicing their concerns at the microphone. Here are the parts of her speech that stood out to me:
1.) Chancellor Fariña acknowledged that she invited herself to District 19 after noticing that the district wasn’t included on her tour of NYC school districts. She stressed the importance of visiting “underserved and underheard” communities such as East New York, Brooklyn.
2.) Right away, Fariña asked if there were any educators in the audience. She reiterated her pledge to bring back respect to NYC teachers and principals, and she encouraged us to speak up at the meeting. This put me at ease until I got no reaction from her after delivering my speech (posted below).
3.) Fariña assured us that the NYCDOE would rely less on outside consultants for curriculum and professional development. She sang the praises of the wonderful work already being done in our schools and called on schools to share ideas and best practices. I believe she said that she’d reward schools for doing this.
4.) Fariña declared that she believed in the Common Core. Her view is that “it’s not a curriculum; it’s a series of strategies.” She said memorizing information won’t get our kids good jobs. This statement reminded me of last year’s NYCDOE pro-Common Core ad that tormented me on my daily subway commute. The ad – posted below – implied that schools just taught basic skills in the pre-Common Core era. This is false and misleads the public. Critical thinking and higher order thinking questions are not new concepts and have long been practiced in our schools. Did Fariña not see this happening in her schools? I don’t think so. It’s worth noting that, contrary to Fariña’s interpretation, last year’s NYCDOE ad referred to the Common Core as a curriculum.
5.) Trailers are a big issue in District 19. Fariña said that in five years, trailers would be gone from New York City public schools.
After addressing the remaining issues of chief concern to District 19, the public was invited to speak. I only got halfway through my speech because we were given just two minutes each to speak. My intention was to raise awareness of excessive standardized testing in NYC public schools and to inquire about the feasibility of a citywide opt-out of Pearson’s stand-alone field tests, which are to be administered in June. Here’s my speech:
My District 19 elementary school is my second family. My English-language learners are like my own kids; I’ve taught their siblings, I know their families and I help newcomers adjust to both a new language and to a new culture. I’m here tonight as an advocate for them, and also for my own daughter who starts kindergarten this fall in District 13.
The current Common Core testing program is unsustainable and developmentally inappropriate, and it must be stopped. The Common Core state tests are meaningless to me as a teacher. They are also unreliable measurements of student learning and achievement. They do not reflect my students’ knowledge and how they’ve progressed over the course of the school year.
Sadly, standardized testing is far from over for the year. Here’s what’s coming up on the 2013-2014 NYC testing agenda:
1.) NYS Common Core Math assessment: Wednesday. April 30 – Friday, May 2
2.) The four-part NYSESLAT assessment for English language learners (ELLs): speaking, listening, reading comprehension passages and multiple choice questions and writing, which is comprised of 2 essays: 1 fact-based and 1 picture description. April 9 – May 16.
3.) New York State Science Performance Test (grades 4 & 8). May 21 -30.
4.) New York State Science Written section (grades 4 & 8). June 2.
5.) MOSL (local assessments) used for teacher ratings (at many, but not all, schools). Grades 3-5 students will complete a reading and writing performance assessment, and a math Scantron online Ed performance will also be administered. May 5 – 12.
6.) Pearson field testing. June 2 -11.
The New York City Council has already unanimously passed a resolution calling on the State Education Department to cease fielding testing. Chancellor Fariña, I call on the NYCDOE to opt-out of Pearson’s upcoming field tests. At the very least, can you please ensure that NYC parents are notified in advance that Pearson field tests will be administered. It would be helpful to send principals a form letter that notifies parents of the date, grade and subject area of the field test. It should also state that the field tests are not mandated, and it should ask parents whether or not they consent to having their children participate.
Our students deserve authentic, teacher-created assessments that can be used for instructional and diagnostic purposes. These NYS Common Core tests don’t do that; rather they exploit children for political and economic gain.