Thursday, March 24, 2016

Is Refusing Tests Just Like Fighting for Abolition and Marriage Equality?

At Public School 321 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, part of District 15, more than a third of the eligible students did not sit for the tests last year, and the principal, Elizabeth Phillips, has in the past been outspoken in opposing them. 
At a PTA meeting there last week, Ms. Phillips was studiedly neutral, but several teachers criticized the tests, with one comparing the stand against them to abolitionism and the fight for same-sex marriage.
Okay, folks: reality check. Is refusing standardized tests equivalent to fighting for freedom from slavery or demanding marriage equality?

That’s what several teachers at Public School 321 in Park Slope would have you belief, according to an article in today’s New York Times. These educators might want to review their historical facts and ratchet up their critical thinking skills, per Common Core. Or, more concretely, take a stroll beyond bucolic Park Slope where brownstones rent for $10,000 a month and the average sale price on a house is $826,250.

Talk about first world problems. In New York State, tests aligned with the college and career-ready standards are no longer linked to teacher evaluations because 1) Gov. Cuomo shriveled up and started kowtowing to  the teachers’ union and 2) suburban parents resent proof that their children aren’t as brilliant as they once thought.

The new Regents Chancellor, Betty Rosa, whose ascendency was heavily lobbied for by NYSUT and NYS Allies for Public Education (a suburban parents group opposed to accountability) is opening urging parents to opt-out their kids. And they’re listening in Park Slope, although not in Harlem or the Bronx. Every kid in NYC’s poorest neighborhoods took the tests last year because their parents understand the importance of accurately gauging student growth and know the difference between righteous fights for freedom and snobbish donnybrooks against common sense metrics.

P.S. 321, by the way, is an almost exclusively white upper-class school (only 9% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch; 8% are African-American) where students traditionally score high on standardized tests. The principal there, Elizabeth Phillips, supported a teacher protest rally last year against both the Common Core and attendant assessments.

The Times article notes that,
The state’s position appears to be in flux. The previous Regents chancellor, Merryl H. Tisch, was a strong proponent of the tests. Last year, while Dr. Tisch was still in office, the education commissioner, MaryEllen Elia, who reports to the Regents, said that it was “unethical” for educators to encourage or support test refusal and that it was districts’ responsibility to make sure that as many students as possible took the exams this spring. But the election of Dr. Rosa, who was endorsed by leaders of the opt-out movement, has muddied the issue.
It’s not so muddy for parents who rely on accurate measures of student growth and can’t afford the rent in Park Slope, which comes packaged with access to P.S. 321. According to a parent survey by Education Post, the vast majority of black and Latino parents support college and career-ready standards and attendant testing. But their rights are thrown under the bus as wealthy Park Slope denizens embellish their anti-accountability fervor with a thin gloss of self-righteousness. Abolition indeed.

1 comment:

Bruce said...

While there is a huge disparity between the massive evil of slavery and the lesser offence of federally mandated annual testing, and while one would assume the teachers involved made these analogies in the heat of their passionate intensity for their pupils' best interests and would admit that the comparisons are far-fetched, yet behind the intensity gaps there remains a glimmer of truth. The teachers may well feel the children are enslaved to a dominant test-prep machine where decisions made by distant masters are ruining their childhoods; and, similarly, their struggle resembles, dimly, the battle for marriage equality in that these children deserve equal access to the broader curricula and less stressful assessment afforded by the private school educations that the Obama and Duncan children are enjoying. Many of us who are not wealthy wish we could make our state schools as accountable to us as the private schools enjoyed by those powerful families are to them; but that kind of empowering accountability to families would require that education savings accounts for us be set up, with vouchers for schooling in such institutions deposited into them; and the many upstate New Yorkers of modest means, of whatever color, who have been opting out in droves and who might with those accounts achieve a measure of equality with those who are better off may have a long wait before that kind of empowerment is afforded to them by reformers who continue to beat the dead horse of Bush-era accountability as if it had been a success.