A crowd of parents, teachers and children gathered outside Department of Education headquarters in Manhattan on Friday afternoon to demonstrate against standardized school testing, following two weeks of exams for children across the city’s public school system.
Led by two organizations that lobby against standardized tests, Change the Stakes and Time Out From Testing, the group, which a police officer at the scene said numbered over a hundred, beat drums and chanted “Mike, the mayor, the public school slayer.” The dominant message from teachers and parents was that educators must wrestle back control of the tests from state officials and companies hired by the state to create the standardized tests.
“Get the bureaucrats out of the picture!” said parent Jeff Nichols. “No to the concept that children are to be judged by paper-pushers who have never met them.”
The group was joined by city comptroller and mayoral candidate John Liu, who told the crowd that he would do away with annual testing altogether if he became mayor. “I would actually have more testing — pop quizzes throughout the year developed by teachers,” he said.
Liu said he sympathized with parents opting out. “Obviously students opting out en masse is not a long-term solution. The real solution is restoring the learning environment.”
Theo Frye Yanos, a 10-year-old from PS 187 in Washington Heights, said his homework for the past few weeks consisted exclusively of practice tests. His parents opted out of the recent exams along with five others in his grade, and he spent the six testing days in school but doing other work.
“The test is about compiling databases,” said Theo’s mother, Tory Frye. “I think it’s clear that educators aren’t running our schools.”
Parents who boycotted the test sent a letter to their child’s school asking that their teacher use the code ‘999,’ which usually denotes a child as being absent.
New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott recently announced a campaign to raise awareness about the city’s initiative to update its curriculum in line with the state’s new Common Core standards, focusing on critical thinking, abstract reasoning in math and reading comprehension. The city has spent $125 million to train teachers on the Common Core, a new system delivered through a contract with Pearson, a media and education company that also owns The Financial Times of London. The Department of Education is expected to spend another $50 million on textbooks updated with Common Core objectives.
Many parents said that they wanted to remove their children from this month’s tests but didn’t go ahead because they feared the children would be isolated.
“I didn’t want my child to be the only one opting out,” said Martha Foote, whose son, Johnston Burke, attends PS 321 in Park Slope, Brooklyn. “There was a lot of misinformation and it was problematic – we didn’t want to hurt our school.”
Another mother, Edith Balthazar, whose son is in fifth grade at PS 87 on the Upper West Side, said she had not opted out because “testing has become such a huge part of the culture of the school.”
“I was worried it could affect him getting in to middle school,” she added.
Organizers of the rally said in a press release that teachers have been gagged by the Department of Education and warned that they must not speak out. But some educators not employed by the department who attended the rally supported the message that evaluating student progress is a job for teachers only.
“If you never took a course in assessment, if you don’t have a background in education psychology and methodology,” said Lucia Buttaro, a professor of education at Adelphi University on Long Island, “you have no business telling educators what to do, how to do it or when to do it.”