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Teachers Opinions on Standardized Tests Unwelcome in NYC and “Unethical” According to NYS Commissioner

March 25, 2016

Kate Taylor’s NYTimes article this morning reports on the unified effort to squelch public dissent by teachers, an effort supported by the NYC Superintendent, the NYS Commissioner, and the teacher’s union. This unlikely alliance is in place because 20% of the parents in NYS opted out of the standardized tests last year and changes at the Regents level and changes to the tests provide evidence that the politicians in Albany have been responsive to the outcry that resulted from the Governor and former Chancellor of the Regent’s overreach on the use of tests. Why did these changes compel public education leaders to squelch dissent? The short answer is “politics”.

In the case of Ms. Farina, NYC’s Superintendent, she wants to make certain the her schools continue to have a high participation rate so that her boss, Mayor de Blasio, can continue to assert that his administration is committed to the kind of “rigorous accountability” his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, put in place. Last year NYC’s participation was 98% over all, and Ms. Farina wants to keep it that way.

In the case of the NYS Commissioner, the silencing is reflexive— but could help her retain her assignment despite the changing of the guard on the Regents. Long a supporter of test-based reform, Ms. Elia stated last year that is was “unethical” for teachers to speak out against the tests. But, as the Times notes, at that time she was parroting the Regent’s party line and now that the majority of Regents members are opposed to the over-emphasis on testing she may be ratcheting her language down a tone or two.

In the case of the unions, they believe the system has worked for them and want to make certain that the media gets the clear message that parents, not teachers, drove the opt out movement. While their position on this is politically astute, it is somewhat disappointing that they are supporting the suppression of free speech in the name of politics… but as teacher’s unions have become more and more politically wired they have become increasingly insensitive to their rank and file. (I offer the early endorsement of Hillary Clinton by the AFT and NEA as exhibit one in this argument!)

As one who is unalterably opposed to the use of standardized tests as the primary metric for measuring student, school, or teacher performance, I have a workaround for like-minded parents. Ask  your child’s teacher if the tests are helpful in gaining an understanding of what motivates your child to want to learn… because in the end public education should encourage each child with a desire to learn more and the skills to do so… and I doubt that preparing for a standardized test or poring over the results of a test will help a teacher gain any insights on a child’s thirst for knowledge.

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