NYC Teachers: What do YOU think of Pearson’s NYS Common Core tests?

Oh wait – we aren’t supposed to say anything about Pearson’s NYS Common Core tests.



As I reported in my last blog post, in her March 15, 2016 letter to NYC parents, NYC schools chancellor Carmen Fariña wrote that the NYS (New York State) Common Core math and ELA (English-language arts) tests are “…incredibly important for teachers and schools, who use the results to improve instruction and to provide individual support to all of our students.  They are a valuable experience for our students.”  

What do you think? Are Pearson’s NYS Common Core tests valuable and important?  Please leave a comment on this post (or send me an email:  I will respect your anonymity. I just ask that you include the following information: borough, NYC school district and school level (middle or elementary).

I am soliciting teacher feedback because I strongly disagree with Fariña’s remarks about the value of these tests and feel that it’s important for ALL parents – not just those in Brooklyn’s District 15 or Tribeca – to know the truth about these tests.  I applaud the brave teachers at Park Slope’s P.S. 321 and Tribeca’s P.S. 234 who have criticized the tests to parents.  Their eloquent testimonials are spot on.  Countless teachers bemoan Pearson’s NYS Common Core tests behind closed doors, but due to fear here in NYC, few teachers speak out against them.

As a mandated reporter and educator of English-language learners (ELLs), I refuse to remain quiet.  Since 2013, I have had to administer these horrendous Pearson Common Core tests to my students.  Each year I tell myself that I will follow the lead of NYC’s Teachers of Conscience by refusing to administer them. But I haven’t yet taken that step.  Instead, I have this blog.


The 2016 NYS testing season begins on April 5, 2016. It includes Pearson’s NYS Common Core ELA and math tests (a total of six days), the NYSESLAT for English-language learners, the state science test for 4th gradersCommon Core field tests for select grades in select schools, the Chinese Reading Assessment for students in Chinese dual language/bilingual classes and the Spanish (ELE) Reading Assessment for students in Spanish dual language/bilingual classes. This means that out-of-classroom teachers, like myself, will have to suspend their teaching programs (mine is mandated) in order to test students.  Our kids who are most in need of support – both academic and emotional – will be deprived of their services during this time.  It also means that teachers will feel disingenuous as they encourage students to do their best on non-teacher created tests that insult our intelligence.  Pearson’s NYS Common Core tests have been widely discredited for being poorly constructed, developmentally inappropriate, and invalid.  The New York State Education Department (NYSED) manipulates cut scores in order to legitimize the false narrative that our schools are failing.  Not only are cut scores constantly changing but the NYSED sets them AFTER the tests have been scored. Thus, the NYSED’s claim that 70% of our students are failing is invalid.

It is a truly soul-crushing time of the year for everyone involved, except – perhaps – for Carmen Fariña.  Will she be deprived of valuable instructional time to administer and to score meaningless tests? Will she have to watch students, as young as 8-years-old, shut down, cry, throw up, call themselves stupid? Will she go home at the end of a grueling testing day in tears? Will she have to to explain to a scared and confused newcomer ELL why he/she has to take the ELA test after just 12 months in the system followed by the NYSESLAT? Fariña is not in the trenches. We are, and – for the sake of our beloved students – our stories deserve to be told.  

NYC teachers – I implore you to use this blog post to share your views about Pearson’s Common Core tests.  We will not be silenced or disenfranchised. We want our students to thrive, and to be motivated to make the world a better place.  This testing program is a kick to the stomach.  Enough is enough.




19 thoughts on “NYC Teachers: What do YOU think of Pearson’s NYS Common Core tests?

  1. I am a bilingual teacher in Brooklyn, and I can tell you that the state tests – and the NYSESLAT – are poorly written, developmentally inappropriate, and misaligned with what I teach my students. Additionally, all the research on second language acquisition says that it takes FIVE to SEVEN YEARS to acquire academic proficiency in a new language. So WHY are we forcing my ELL students to take this test just one year after they enter our system?!?!?!? How dare Carmen Fariña – who loves to remind us that she herself was an ELL – turn her back on these kids, knowing full well the abuse she’s signing them up for? And HOW DARE SHE meet with her District 15 privileged cronies and tell them all the information about opting out of these awful tests, while she tells MY low-income, newly-arrived early-stage English Language Learners to buck up and take the tests?!?!?!? Why isn’t she telling THEM that they have the right to opt out?!?!?!? She is a liar and a hypocrite and she should be ashamed of herself. I teach elementary in D17 in Brooklyn, and I am tired of being told I have no right to speak out about the horrors to which Carmen is subjecting our neediest students. I have had it.

  2. Maestra, I agree with you except where you call the good people of D15 who attended that meeting her “privileged cronies.” While some of the invitees may have been, several of those who I know were anything but. Rather, they are principled parents who have been FIGHTING her on this–so not cronies at all–and using their privilege to insist that ALL parents be notified of their right to refuse. I was not at the meeting but I am a D15 parent who is very active in opt out and, believe me, not for my own children, who have done, and would do, perfectly fine on these tests and whose schools do not drown them in test prep. Can we not let Farina et al win by dividing and conquering public school parents? Also, for the record, I have it from a reliable source that that meeting was not meant to placate D15 parents, but to “squelch” opt out.

    • Didn’t mean to offend D15 parents with the above comment, and certainly don’t aim to divide. But with all due respect, this is not about you.

      This is about our two-faced chancellor.

      The fact is, Carmen treats District 15 very differently. That is no fault of the parents or hardworking teachers and principals there, but it is the truth. And it is exactly that inequity which Carmen absolutely CREATES, that must be exposed.

      So if our goal is to expose that inequity – as mine is – then let’s not be afraid to call a spade a spade.

  3. A very important test is a test where the child’s teacher is able to see what questions the child got right and what he/she got correct. This way the teacher will be able to help the student understand why it was the wrong answer and learn not only the correct answer but how to GET the correct answer! This is how it has been done FOR YEARS, before the Corporate Takeover of our Supposed Public Education. Most parents DO NOT KNOW that the teacher Never gets to see the test, not before, not during and not After! They are also NOT told that the people who actually do get to see their child’s test are often people hired off of CRAIG’S LIST! I am a retired Special Education Teacher, a parent and a Grandparent of three public school children.

    • There is A LOT to criticize about these tests, ranging from their composition to how they are scored to how they are used as a cudgel to close schools. That said, the Craig’s List thing, while true elsewhere, is NOT TRUE in New York State. In fact, teachers are pulled out of school to score tests, causing even more lost instructional time. And in a vivid demonstration of inequity, schools can BUY their way out of sending teachers to score. The catch? Their PTAs must be wealthy enough to fundraise to pay for alternate scorers.

  4. As a 4th/5th grade teacher in East Harlem, I can say with confidence that the NYS Pearson Common Core test not only is inaccurate and arbitrary in measuring student achievement, but also damages my students’ learning. Curriculum comes to a halt before testing. The pressure to have test prep (which has been proven to be ineffective) requires many teachers to put their actual curriculum on hold. Moreover, because the test is in April, I often am not able to slow down my lessons to ensure understanding so as to make sure that students are exposed to all concepts that are on the test. In addition, the test takes up six days of learning. Most importantly, the test is developmentally inappropriate and does not reflect the classroom. For instance, differentiation is required of all teachers in NYC to address individual learning needs. However, the test is not differentiated. Therefore, while it has been widely accepted that students read at different levels, the reading level required to do well on the test is above many readers in my classroom, which is an ICT classroom.

  5. This just in!
    Fariña: “A special ed parent, with a child with an IEP who has a very low frustration level, who no matter how much you’re going to do is never [going to] get to a certain level on this kind of test,” she said. “That’s not to say that they’re not going to have success in life and so forth but to sit through a test with maybe a level 1 or 2 reader … I think it is a little bit, you know, too much.

    “So if I were that kind of a parent, I’d probably opt out.”

    Fariña: “If I was a parent of a newly arrived immigrant, and I was taking the test after being in this country for one year, I’d say, ‘What? Are you kidding?” Fariña said. “We want this changed … I want the NYSESLAT as a whole eliminated, but this particular criteria of putting kids through something that there’s no way they can succeed at, again that to me is an option [for opting out].”

  6. Jeanette Deutermann posted this to Long Island Opt Out Info on Facebook.

    Anonymous Post:
    “I am a NYC teacher and I support the opt-out movement and will opt my own children out when the time comes. I proctored a practice ELA exam on Tuesday for the first time since it became untimed. One of my 3rd grade students with Special Needs sat with a 9 question test (6 multiple choice 3 short answer) for 4 hours and 50 minutes. From 9 am-1:50 pm she “worked productively” and continued to say she wasn’t done. Lunch was brought to her in the testing room. It was child abuse, plain and simple. I am writing you for fear of retaliation in my workplace since this story pertains to my job and I imagine Ms. Fariña would not approve of me sharing it on social media. I don’t know what else to say as there really isn’t anything more to say other than repeat what I stated earlier. It’s child abuse. The passages and questions were ridiculously inappropriate. Most adults would have had difficulty answering the questions.”

  7. This comment was posted on the New York Times, in response to Kate Taylor’s 3/24/16 article – Teachers Are Warned About Criticizing New York State Tests.


    “I am a NYC public school teacher, and we were told by our administration that, as NYC DOE employees, we are not allowed to give parents our opinion on testing – which, she also stated, means that we are not to tell parents their rights regarding opting out if they do not ask about it. When families “opt-out” of testing for their children, it is now called “REFUSAL to take the test” by the NYC DOE. In addition, if a child takes the test on day one and the family decides for the child to “REFUSE” the test on day 2 and day 3, the child will get a score of “1”. Teachers at my school were strongly encouraged to persuade families to have their child complete the entire test rather than getting that “1”.

    Although it is a family’s legal right to opt their child out of these standardized test, the hostility in labeling the child as “REFUSAL to take the test” feels like bullying. Not fully informing parents of their rights and then scoring a child a “1” if they opt out on the remainder of a test is manipulative.”

  8. This individual is not a NYC public school teacher, but I appreciate his comments on the above mentioned NYT article.

    Horace DeweyNYC

    “District 15 Superintendent Anita Skop claims that teachers encouraging students to opt out of pointless, curiosity-destroying and soul-damaging standardized tests are engaging in political acts?

    She may be right.

    Which is why we owe those teachers our profound respect and admiration. In the face of a continuing mass social hallucination that there is a connection between a year of teaching to the test and subsequent educational outcomes, they are acting as our truth tellers and speaking truth to both parents and power.

    Drop by my university someday and — in 15 minutes or less — Ill train you how to distinguish the undergraduates who became masters of rote and test-taking and those who were lucky enough to come from school systems that valued the creative manipulation of ideas over testing.

    Do the master test takers come with marginally higher SAT scores? Absolutely.

    Do they excel in real-world problem solving, synthesis of ideas, elegant solutions to the knottiest of problems? Sometimes.

    But never with the brilliance and analytical flexibility of students who show up, not with a list of scores, but a rich bank of ideas.

    Teach to the test all you want. Just know that when you finally get your child into that dream college, the faculty whose salary you will be paying will have no choice but to immediately start to undo the pathological focus on test skills that was your”gift” and replacing it with complex, elegant, joyful reasoning and learning.”

  9. The tests are neither valuable nor important to me as a parent or as a 4th grade teacher. A score received without context six months later tells me nothing. I do not care how my children are doing as compared to others in the state. I want to know what my children can or can’t do. The scores of last year’s 3rd graders, now my students, do not offer me any information to help me diagnose strengths and areas for improvement. The results do not, “improve my instruction.” Other than being used to target the lowest scoring children who took the tests, the tests are meaningless.

  10. This was submitted to me anonymously by a Bronx teacher.

    Dear Katie,

    Your post inspired me because I too suffer a conflict of consciousness when administering standardized tests. Recently, I estimated that my students have already had 35 periods of ELA and Math standardized testing this school year. We haven’t even gotten to the New York State Tests yet. These have been tests not created by teachers but tests made by the district and other testing companies that are contracted by the school. If you throw in a handful of science and social studies tests too, our students have easily spent more than 50 hours on standardized tests. Among the important things to notice when these tests are administered is that first the school changes its daily schedule, then children who should be able to move their bodies are forced to sit still and quiet for at least two periods sometimes three or more, and no teaching is occurring. All of this results in students being anxious and disruptive. I believe this happens primarily because children thrive by consistency within a nurturing and caring environment. Testing days are not consistent nor are they nurturing or caring.

    Thinking about your questioning of Chancellor Farina’s remarks regarding testing I think she is reiterating boilerplate press releases I’ve read ad nauseam from businesspeople, education consultants, politicians, and pre-made curriculum introductions. It’s a type of newspeak used to obscure the real goal of testing as making money, siphoning resources that could be earmarked for the classroom and sending them to education services companies. It’s surprising she said something so rote and clearly scripted. Or maybe the news reporter just cobbled together some press releases. Maybe this quote should be fact checked or you can call Farina for comment.

    Maybe she is under pressure to shill for Pearson and hosts of other corporate reformists. Could it be about the money? The city may be in some type of contractual and financial bind with the state, U.S. Government, and testing corporations. So as leader Farina needs to walk a thin line. However, any of this information should be available to the public.

    Maybe, just maybe, Farina is pretending. Being duplicitous. Running cover for the teachers and administrators who know these tests are bogus. Perhaps she agrees with us but as leader must appear to be neutral; a kind of Nixon style plausible deniability in reverse toward positive goals. In any case the more she clamps down the lid the more the pot will boil.

    The question is why is the Chancellor of the nation’s largest school district so adamantly in favor of these tests while there is a growing movement against them. I expect this type of willful ignorance from business people, those in a position to make a profit, like the owner of Lorillard saying in the senate that there is no link between cigarettes and cancer, or the NFL denying its rate of concussions, yet, not from academics. Mountains of analytical, psychological, sociological, and scientific information show that standardized tests reveal little more than how a student responded to a group of questions on a certain day.

    Yet, it’s always about the money. The tests are money: money for the companies making, distributing, and scoring them, money for the districts that agree to administer them. Ironically, teacher made tests cost little and do not make anyone money. Yet, scientists say those are the scores most predictive of student success. But that is another story. The questions remain. Something I would really like to explore as a research writing project with students are the origins of the Pearson Company. One can find through a cursory Internet search that it was originally a construction and engineering concern then media conglomerate turned education services provider whose ultimate responsibility is to shareholders not children.

    Do I use the New York State Assessments to drive instruction or help students improve? Only in a backwards sort of way that is nonsensical. Because the students take them and I care deeply about my students social-emotional well being I feel compelled to help prepare the students for tests despite their inappropriateness. Possibly, I care about helping the students because of the tests inappropriateness. I want to shield children from potential abuse. The scores are used against immigrant, impoverished, under-resourced students especially those classified as English Language Learners or students with disabilities. Teachers have been forbidden to explain to students that the tests are not used to determine student advancement, a popular misconception among my students, but are used to simply rate schools and teachers. Nor can I remind students that they have rights to refuse to take the tests.

    The sad thing is the tests are developmentally inappropriate insofar as the texts are often too high above the reading levels of students, especially English language learners and students with disabilities. The questions are often vague or overly complicated. Not too mention that multiple choice questions do not provide an opportunity for students to really show what they know or can do. I dare all who promote these tests to take them under the oppressive conditions required by the companies. I, and some colleagues, have taken these tests. We have not scored well because the questions are vague, too broad, and distractors are purposefully inserted. It is cruel to subject children to these tests especially when so many questions about their validity remain unanswered.

    Furthermore, I worked many years in commercial arts production and then nonprofit management before teaching. I have worked with all kinds of people from the lowest production assistant to the highest, hedge fund managers and partners at major legal and financial firms in New York City. Never is anyone subjected to the solitary suffering of a standardized test. It prepares a child for nothing. All meaningful work even that with high financial profitability is done collaboratively; highly revised and edited; everything is about relationships and teamwork. Never sitting alone bubbling a sheet.

    Anyway, the scores arrive too late to be useful for my students or me. The scores arrive in the summer. The general scores arrive at the end of the school year and the data breakdown not until the beginning of the next school year. Most students I had in the spring will not be mine in the fall. Worse, we never receive a break down of the student responses along with the actual texts and questions. So even if the students were mine the next year the information is not useful. Just a number attached to a data sheet, which informs me of my ranking: Highly Effective, Effective, Developing, or Ineffective.

    There is no use for these type of standardized tests other than to rank and sort students, teachers, and schools. Unless, of course, you factor in burgeoning data mining businesses of tracking student preferences for future media and toy making. If we could imagine some useful purpose it would only occur if the tests were given in the beginning of the year, all information was swiftly disclosed to teachers, and there were no stakes involved. That would enable teachers to do as is claimed: drive instruction to improve student outcomes.

    Finally, Farina is right when she says the tests are valuable, just not to students. Standardized tests are valuable moneymakers for the companies that own them and the groups that use them to create false narratives of failure based on scores. If we follow the trajectory of closing schools in the bottom five percent of a bell curve then all schools will be eventually closed. All of the public money that was used for a free and appropriate public education can be diverted toward charter school corporations that operate outside of collective bargaining agreements and individual constitutional rights, and to educational service providers like the Pearson Company. Sadly, as we have seen in the financial sector every few years–at least over the course of the 100 years or so that this type of data has been tracked–numbers can be manipulated to wreak havoc for many while enriching a few.


    A Mount Hope Place Bronx Teacher

  11. From:

    “Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said there are some instances where it might be appropriate for students to opt out of statewide tests, sources said.

    Fariña offered parents two such circumstances during a private meeting Thursday night organized by Brooklyn City Councilman Brad Lander, according to the sources.

    One example was if special-ed students are given a test written to a much higher reading level than they can ever achieve.

    “If I were that kind of a parent, I’d probably opt out,” she said, according to a transcript posted online.

    Fariña also said newly arrived immigrants should not be required to take the test.

    “This particular criteria of putting kids through something that there’s no way they can succeed at, again that to me is an ­option,” Fariña said.

    Fariña, however, urged that all other parents should have their kids take the tests.

    A spokeswoman for the Department of Education would not confirm Fariña’s statement, but said the chancellor has met with parents and community members to discuss changes to state tests.

    “The chancellor consistently urges families to rest assured that many of their concerns have been addressed,” the spokeswoman said.”

  12. This was sent to me anonymously. “I teach high school English in the Bronx–district 10. I love my job and my school, but the tests are killing us. I don’t let my own kids take them (though the last one aged out last year). You know as well as I that our own professional assessment of our students is what drives instruction; these BS tests that are levels above grade and poorly written/designed don’t tell us squat. As professionals, and as citizens, we need to be able to tell the truth about what we see. Anything else hurts not only the kids, but our entire society.”

  13. A Brooklyn teacher wrote this on her blog:

    Testing Season and Why Everyone Should Opt Out
    Mar28 by msrumphiusinbrooklyn

    “Testing season at my elementary school begins after February break and ends with the conclusion of the state math tests in mid-April. Like many schools, our students are subject to test prep “units” at this time of year that include practice tests, stamina building exercises and test taking skill “explorations.” It is the worst time of year for teachers, students and families, yet at my school, inexplicably, no one is speaking out and no one is opting out.

    So to parents out there, here’s what really happens in testing season…

    No one teaches science or social studies for 3 months. The number of teachers who have told me ” Oh I’m only doing read alouds for science because of test prep” or “we’ll do that activity after testing” is disturbingly high. This time of year, its all about those 3 Rs. This is a reality across the board- whether schools do a test prep “unit” or do test prep all year- science and social studies always get cut. 30 years from now when we are faced with the next global warming like debate, we can thank high stakes testing for our ignorance.
    Reading, writing and math become exclusively pencil and paper tasks and last all day. Reading, writing and math can and should be engaging and meaningful, but in test prep season kids often don’t get to choose what they read or write about, and are fed poorly written passage after passage. Kids should be reading books! Not passages followed by short responses and multiple choice questions. Besides, what’s the point of writing if you’re not allowed to write about anything interesting? ( like STORIES! Remember when kids used to write stories?)
    No trips, no fun, no emotional support. There is so much pressure on teachers to get high scores- so not only is the academic curriculum narrowed to ELA and math, but many teachers sacrifice all the things that keep kids motivated and foster social skills- like trips, games and opportunities for play. At my school we’re not allowed to go on trips with 3rd-5th graders for all of testing season. We all know that what children need to learn is uninterrupted practice with reading packets and multiple choice questions… Oh wait, is that it?
    Even students who have disabilities, or are English language learners have to test prep. Even if they can’t read. At all. They have to “practice” too. I had a student cry for over 30 minutes the other day because his classroom teacher was going to make him finish his ELA packet. He is a smart and vivacious kid who is normally super excited to come to my class and always had great ideas. But he cried for the whole period. The whole period.
    The homework gets insane. Like packets on top of packets. Plus many schools have Saturday classes for extra test prep! Because every day and night is not enough!
    Everyone is grumpy. This might not seem important, but you try teaching 30 grumpy, jittery, stressed out kids or leading a staff meeting with angry, sleep deprived teachers. Let me know how that goes.
    Finally, it trickles down. All this testing frenzy does absolutely trickle down to the younger grades. Especially in testing season. It is around this time of year that the administration “suggests” incorporating testing language and skills for kids as young as pre-k and we are told to plan ways for first graders to be more “test ready.”
    I recently had a conversation with a parent about the impending state tests. This is a parent who has told me that she is thinking about withdrawing both her children from our school and sending them to a progressive private school because, as she put it, “they’re bored.”

    She said that she wasn’t planning on opting out her children because they hadn’t expressed any specific anxieties about the taking the tests. Then she told me that they don’t like school anymore and that is why she is thinking about transferring to a private school.

    Parents out there- if your child is bored at this time of year, it is because of testing. If your child is especially frustrated and emotional at this time of year, it is because of testing. If your child has suddenly stopped going on trips or learning anything in science and social studies, it is because of testing. If your child is coming home with boatloads of homework that make no sense to you, it is because of testing. If your child hates school and finds it all too hard and confusing, that’s probably in some part because of testing too. If any of this sounds all too familiar- you should OPT YOUR KID OUT.

    Send a message that a narrowed, autocratic, undifferentiated, and developmentally inappropriate curriculum is not OK for any child!

    There are some lucky schools out there where the administration eschews test prep and almost all the students opt out. And you know what they do at those schools? They teach. Real stuff. Projects. Science. Social Studies. Critical thinking. Oh and they teach reading, writing and math too. Don’t worry- they make it fun.

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