No Longer Silent: NYC Teachers of Conscience Speak Out Against High-Stakes Testing and Corporate Education Reform

On the afternoon of Tuesday, May 5, 2015, a group of concerned NYC public school teachers and parents – representing the Movement of Rank and File Educators (the MORE Caucus of the UFT), Teachers of Conscience and Change the Stakes – convened in Manhattan’s Washington Square Park to demonstrate against corporate education reform and its destructive and secretive high-stakes testing program.  We displayed posters and spoke from the heart about our individual experiences.  For the first time in months (years?), I felt truly appreciated for the work I do in the trenches.

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Rosalie Friend, a member of Save our Schools and Change the Stakes as well as an educational psychologist, declared that she was standing up for us and our professional standards. Film editor Michael Elliot has been an unsung hero as a public school parent activist.  From Chicago to New Jersey to the boroughs of New York City, Michael has been documenting our work, which includes the burgeoning grassroots opt-out movement. Please watch Michael’s other videos on shoot4education.  They include the May 5 speeches given by NYC Teachers of Conscience Jia Lee, Marcus McArthur, Eunice Eun and Chen Lin, Alexandra Alves, Megan Moskop, Lauren Cohen, Holly Spinelli and Colin Schumacher (in absentia). A group of teachers also sang a clever song If Cuomo Had A Heart – that highlighted Governor Cuomo’s wrong-headed educational plan for our state.

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Michael Elliot and Rosalie Friend 

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Prior to speaking, Teachers of Conscience wore tape over their mouths to convey to the public the lack of transparency with regards to these tests. We are not allowed to divulge any test content.  

Here is the transcript of my speech.  You can also view it here on YouTube.

This week, our youngest learners – students in kindergarten, first and second grades – are taking NYC Performance Assessments in English-language arts (ELA) as measures of student learning (MOSLs).  They are for teacher evaluation purposes only. Scores from these tests count towards 20% of our overall rating.

What our students are being asked to do is developmentally inappropriate.  The task fails to consider early childhood studies, which show that “the average age at which children learn to read independently is 6.5 years.” Some don’t read independently until age seven and THIS is normal. (Please see Defending the Early Years for more information).

What is NOT normal is bombarding first graders with information from two different science texts and expecting them to judiciously select relevant facts to answer two written response questions.  What is NOT normal is expecting first grade students to independently read and to gather facts/evidence from a non-fiction text that is two grade levels above their reading level. My first grade students are being asked to independently read a 3rd grade text – level M – without my support.  And they are to use facts from that book to answer questions independently.  In addition, this text contains errors.  The wrong photograph is used to describe a key fact, but I cannot go into more detail about this, unfortunately.  Now my struggling readers can’t use the photographs to help them answer the questions.

What is WRONG is that my students are losing valuable instructional time to take these flawed tests.  What is WRONG is that my “professional development” time is being used to score these tests.  What is WRONG is that working first grade teachers played no part in creating these tests that are being used to rate us.  What is WRONG is that the New York City Department of Education did NOT correct the errors that were pointed out the them.

As a Teacher of Conscience, I have a moral imperative to know my students well and to understand their learning.  I am discerning when considering the reliability and validity of assessment methods.  I speak out to correct the wrongs.  

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