How Bay Ridge Parents Can Fight Back Against Testing

File 2015-04 P.S. 104
P.S. 104. Photo by Hey Ridge

The education-industrial complex is at it again.

For the fourth year in a row, the New York State Education Department has teamed up with publishing giant Pearson for “field tests” in June. Unbeknown to parents—and with little or no warning to the schools themselves—District 20 (which includes Bay Ridge) has a long list of schools participating in the field tests, ranging from third to eighth grades.

To suggest that this is overkill is an understatement. According to a sample survey by the Center for American Progress, students in grades three to eight average about 10 standardized tests per year. This does not include the time spent in preparation in what the organization calls a “culture of testing,” one that comes at the cost of equally vital enrichment curricula (art, music, physical education) while also placing stressful burdens on teachers and families.

But there is something insidious about the collusion between state and corporation in imposing another round of tests in June, especially after the already stressful set of punitive high-stakes tests schools undertook in the previous months. Not only are these “field tests” not mandatory, but they have no diagnostic value for student nor teacher and have no weight on promotion, retention or school performance-based funding. Essentially, the Pearson-state is engaging in an unethical game of guinea pig, using kids as mass “focus groups” to test their products.

In the business world (and let’s not beat around the bush; Pearson may have a nonprofit component, but it behaves like a business), corporate entities compensate focus groups. If Pearson is going to benefit from experimental tests, they should pay the schools and/or families for their time in the same way every other business pays its focus groups. Moreover, focus groups involve informed consent, and that if this is indeed “research” that Pearson is undertaking, like any study it needs Institutional Review Board approval to study our kids, not to mention parental consent. Do they have that?

What can local Bay Ridge parents and school communities do about this excess of testing? One increasingly popular response is to “opt out“: parents can write letters to their schools’ principals to inform the school that their child (or children) will not participate in testing and should be given an alternative reading or assignment during the tests. But it’s no secret that such a strategy, however effective if critical mass is achieved, favors elite communities and families with the social capital and networks needed to fray any potential repercussions to them or their school.

In this case, there are no punitive attachments tied to the Pearson field tests, but families that want to opt-out but hesitate to do so could benefit from more collective and sustainable school-based actions. In line with other PTAs/SLTs and parent groups across the city, each school’s SLT should formally ask their principal to send the Pearson “field tests” back to the New York Education Department unopened, sending a message to state officials that their school, and their children, will not be an experimental factory for an irresponsible, unethical testing giant. In addition, pressures should be placed on each district’s CEC (Community Education Council); though such bodies have little influence or power in curricular and testing matters, the collective symbolism of resolutions calling on the DOE to reject such unnecessary tests would send the right message to Albany: enough is enough!

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