Testing Opponents Relentless in New York City

by Elizabeth Carson, NYC HOLD (February 2004)

A tightly woven network of local, state, and national groups knots together to lead local opposition to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 3rd grade retention plan (see article by John Tarleton at bottom) They represent a who’s who of education insider groups organized in opposition to state academic standards and the use of standardized assessments to support and monitor student academic achievement and individual school success.

One of the parent activists quoted in the Tarleton article leads a group also opposed to New York State’s Regents exams -- The Parents' Coalition to End High Stakes Testing

(Website: http://www.performanceassessment.org/consortium/cjoin.html )

This group, in turn, is part of a coalition to which their children's schools are members -- the New York Performance Standards Consortium, representing 28 schools across New York State. Formed in 1997, the Consortium opposes high stakes tests and focuses opposition to the Regents exams.

(Website: http://www.performanceassessment.org/

There exists yet another, ancillary anti-testing group with which they are associated -- Time Out From Testing -- a "statewide coalition of parent, educator, business, community, and civil rights organizations in New York State committed to a ‘time-out’ from excessive and high stakes exams."

(Website: http://www.timeoutfromtesting.org/ )

Monty Neil's Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest) also supports the Consortium campaign. (Website: http://www.fairtest.org/) Neil was brought in to testify at Steve Sanders’ hearings on the Regents exams. Alfie Kohn is another national figure asked to speak at anti-Regents rallies organized by the Consortium in the past several years. Alfie Kohn is a radical opposer of standardized tests and supporter of alternative education generally, and famous for his position that parents who value classical education are likely racist and elitist.

The philosophy espoused by these advocacy groups and Consortium schools is embodied in the national Coalition of Essential Schools (CES) (Website http://www.essentialschools.org/) CES provides guiding principles for K-12 education. (Website:http://www.essentialschools.org/pub/ces_docs/about/phil/10cps/10cps.html )

Given the Consortium's current advocacy at the city and state level, and the Gates Foundation’s multi-million dollar funding to replicate CES high schools, I think it is important to scrutinize the CES philosophy, embodied in the CES Essential Principles, and, in particular, # 6.

Interestingly, the CES Principle # 6 that CES lists on its website seems to have been muted, as it differs significantly from Principle #6 listed in the document often distributed to parents in NYC.

Below is Principle # 6 as it reads on the list I was given when Chair of the School Leadership Team at School of the Future (SOF) and parent representative to the Consortium, by the principal at that time, who also serves on the Board of CES. SOF is, of course, a member school in the NY Performance Standards Consortium. SOF parents have led the 8th grade state tests boycott for several years, as part of the anti-Regents campaign

" #6 Assessment. Students should be evaluated on the basis of their performance, not hours spent or credits earned. Performance assessment should be as direct and authentic as possible. Thus indirect and normative testing should be replaced as soon and as far as possible. by alternative performance-based assessment methods. Graduation from elementary school and high school should be based on demonstrated mastery over clearly stated competencies related to the school's general plan of education."

(source: The Center for Collaborative Education The NYC Affiliate of the Coalition of Essential Schools)

This CES goal is a fundamental tenet of CES philosophy and schools. It indicates a clear opposition to school curricular alignment with city and state standards and school participation in city and state standardized assessments. CES schools do not offer accelerated courses or high school AP courses and would therefore not endorse the curriculum of top NYC high schools, such as Stuyvesant, Bronx Science, or Brooklyn Tech.

I think it is important to consider the Consortium advocacy fully, what it stands for and wishes to achieve, given not only the CES’s close association with the Gates Foundation small high schools initiative, but also because of the Consortium’s potential influence in education reform more broadly, during this convulsive and politically charged time in NYC and NYS education reform, made even more complicated by NCLB influences and politics.

The NY Performance Standards Consortium has been working for years to re-gain a school-based opt out provision from the state requirement for Regents exit exams. As I have already indicated, they advocate a very different approach, curriculum and testing system from the classical model that many parents and some portion of the general public support. Most ( if not all) their schools have adopted the experimental constructivist math programs developed over the past decade. Urban Academy is one such member school and, recall, the Gates Foundation's chosen model for replication.

Some might wish to read the lead article in the current edition of the CES Journal HORACE, "Making Math Personal." To access it online requires a subscription.

(Website: http://www.essentialschools.org/ )

The Consortium has entered the 3rd grade retention issue full force, ostensibly seeing it as an opportunity to promote their own larger anti-testing campaign. Their leaders and supporters have been present at several of the third grade retention hearings held throughout the city in recent weeks. They include the Consortium Co-Chairs, one also the head of Urban Academy, the Chair of the Parents Coalition to End High Stakes Testing, and a Co-Director of the National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching (NCREST) at Teachers College, Columbia University.

(Web site: http://www.schoolredesign.net/srn/server.php?idx=546 )

At one such recent meeting, with a panel on testing and standards, heavily weighted with Consortium representatives, much of the discussion focused on opposition to the Regents exams. A Consortium leader stated that the only reason the New York State Regents are now engaged in revisions of the Math A and Physics exams is because "white kids started failing it." Indeed, the group’s presentations opposing standardized testing often place emphasis on racial arguments, claiming racial bias in tests and suggesting that test policy makers, and those associated with the policies, have racist motivations At the same meeting, a former member of the NYC Board of Education who supports the Coalition positions on the Regents exams and third grade retention, stated that the Regents exams were designed to fail half the children.

In my time at the mike that evening I included my objection to the assertion that the state is working to revise the Regents exams only because white kids started to fail the test. A coalition leader responded that it was easy for me to deny the racism because I am white. The assault that night by Consortium leaders was squarely on standardized tests and policy, with no discussion of instruction, curriculum or standards. Their message was that tests are: expensive, flawed in structure and scoring, not useful to measure achievement, unfair, an elitist, racist sorting system that sets some number of children up to fail (and always with strong suggestion of WHO those children will be). The only mention of curriculum occurred in the context of assertions that standardized tests force "teaching to the test" and destroy a rich curriculum.

Likely, we can expect that every hearing on 3rd grade retention will be exploited and monopolized by the Consortium's viewpoint to further their larger agendas.

The Consortium, like some others in NYC, has recklessly forwarded a race argument against policies they oppose. One point I heard recently is that the 3rd grade retention policy would have a disproportionate impact on minorities. This is, I believe, a particularly disingenuous and calculated inflammatory argument. Almost any citywide policy will have a disproportionate impact on minorities since 85% of the city student population is minority.

Without sound evidence, accusations of racism or racist intent in educational policy, offers no valid insight or course to quality reform, instead, clouds important issues and is racially divisive.

Gratuitous insertion of race and racism in education discussion and debate is heating up, once again.

We've faced it, of course, in the math wars for years. Constructivist math proponents claim solutions for how to teach minorities and women, and to addressing inequity in education. So, then, any one of us who criticize their programs and approaches face a quick deductive assessment, that we then must not hold concern for the education of women, minorities or issues of equity. Constructivist math proponents successfully fend off consideration of their critics’ arguments with one very powerful suggestion: their critics are all racist and elitist!

This has been the experience of NYC parents, called racist and elitist (sometimes even fundamentalist Christians) for asking that appropriate and necessary mathematics content be put back into the curriculum.

Parent founders of the Upper East Side High School campaign have faced similar personal attacks. The parents were called elitist and racist for daring to ask for a college preparatory school in their neighborhood. At the same time, no objections or similar concerns were raised about bias or equity in discussions about the only decent school facility in the Upper East Side neighborhood, the Julia Richman Complex. Julia Richman houses the Urban Academy and other alternative schools that serve not the needs of the neighborhood, but rather, exclusively the needs of students from other boroughs, bused in. Urban offers an alternative educational environment, a non-Regents curriculum.

Chancellor Klein has inserted race and equity into discussion and debate, while simultaneously avoiding address of instructional issues. Lately in his speeches, he's taken on the vocal inflections and mannerisms of a southern preacher, offering few explanations or details, in the face of mounting public rejection of Children First instructional reforms, instead sticking with emphasis on his overarching goal to reach ALL (his emphasis) the children, and his concerns for civil rights.

At a fall Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) meeting, I brought up the issue of NCLB transfers. I asked the board what office or committee was responsible for the transfer policy and operations. I relayed that there were, as a result of the NCLB Act, a magnitude of transfers already this year that had as a result led to severe overcrowding in some schools, and this with only a small fraction of the families with the right to transfer yet participating. I asked if the city might set some reasonable limit to the number of transfers into successful schools (as none to that date had been set). I relayed that the overcrowding was stressing school staff, and seriously compromising their ability to serve any of the students in their charge. I suggested that this trend could well lead ultimately to the failure of more schools.

The Chancellor did not answer any of my questions but did take the opportunity to lecture me personally about the need to be concerned for ALL (his emphasis) of the children and followed with a short statement about his desire to meet the needs of the historically failing and disenfranchised.. I felt insulted and humiliated, honestly. (Although I'd like to think my skin is thicker, since the experience is not new to me, having endured such lectures delivered from on high by District 2 school board members in defense of their fuzzy math programs.)

I was somewhat heartened that night however, to hear one response to Klein's statements, by a parent (and minority) sitting behind me, who muttered: bull*#$&.

This is a time in city education reform that requires, for any hope of a positive and productive turn, a well informed, discerning, astute and reasoned populace. One hope rests in knowing there are many more parents like the one sitting behind me at the PEP meeting.



Independent Media Center

High Stakes Testing Opponents Hope to Sway Bloomberg's Hand-Picked School Board

by John Tarleton, 27 Feb 2004

Spurred by a sense that momentum is shifting in their favor, 120 concerned parents and teachers gathered Thursday evening to continue organizing against Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to impose high stakes testing on the city’s third graders this spring.

“It’s not yet a policy. My understanding is there is quite a bit of dissension.” City Councilwoman Eva Moskowitz (D-Upper East Side) told the crowd which met in the library of Washington Irving High School near Union Square.

Under Bloomberg’s plan, students who receive low scores on standardized tests in English and Math would have to attend a special summer school program or be held back. Classroom work, attendance and individual learning styles would not be considered in promotion. As many as 15,000 third graders may be held back this year alone.

The plan still has to be ratified by the Panel for Educational Policy (PEP) at its March 15 meeting. Jane Hirschmann of Time Out Fr! om Testing is hopeful that the Panel will break with Bloomberg for the first time since it was established last year. She said six Panel members are currently opposed to the high stakes tests and that the rest need to be intensively lobbied.

“We want to drive them crazy,” Hirschmann said. “We want to let them know in no uncertain terms that we are against this.”

“We are not going to allow this policy to be implemented and that’s the bottom line,” added City Councilwoman Margarita Lopez (D-Lower East Side).

Opponents of Bloomberg’s plan are now focusing their energies on making their case at a March 3 hearing before Moskowitz’s Education Committee. They also hope to present thousands of petition signatures at the March 15 PEP meeting. Hirschmann was also hopeful that teachers union president Randi Weingarten would reverse her support for the tests.

“I think she’s rethinking her position,” Hirschmann said.

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