Anti-Testing Supporters Sense Momentum


June 3, 2013, 4:00 a.m.


This week field tests will be given in thousands of New York elementary and middle schools but parents who oppose the tests said their movement to boycott, or opt out, of the test taking is gathering steam.

While there is no hard data to support their claims, anecdotally the opt-out conversation has become a familiar one across the city. The coalition groupChange the Stakes is vocal. And even the City Council joined the fray with a non-binding resolution against field tests.

Field tests give questions a practice run under realistic testing conditions so that the test makers, Pearson and the New York State Education Department, can offer better tests next school year.

But the timing of these field tests, at the end of the year after a grueling spring testing season, a distrust of Pearson and an overall fatigue with the central role tests have taken in the city’s schools have led families, and entire schools, to refuse to participate.

A hot-spot for the opposition is the Earth School in the East Village.

“The parent body has requested that these tests not be taken,” said Marco Battistella, who has two children in the school and is community outreach officer for the parent association. The principal of the school has agreed to not participate in field testing this year.

The Earth School parents acknowledged it may be tempting to see them as a fringe group, a bunch of East Village radicals. But parent Cynthia Copeland said they aren’t alone.

“All kinds of people are coming together and saying enough is enough, we need to stop this,” she said. “And there are more and more forums that are taking place across the city.”

Associate State Education Commissioner Ken Wagner said
field tests are considered standard practice. Even with experienced educators poring over potential questions, Wagner said there’s no substitute for the real deal.

“Until you give those tests to students, in test circumstances, we just don’t have statistical information about how those test items behave,” he said.

Ideally, Wagner said the state would embed all potential questions in the annual tests. Last year, about 10-15 percent of the state exams included field test questions. But he said New York can’t afford to put more of these in the regular exams because it would require producing more copies of each exam, an expensive undertaking.

The chief measurement officer for Pearson, Jon Twing, said field tests are considered especially important now because the state’s new Common Core learning standards require sophisticated test questions that encourage deeper, and more critical, thinking.

Both Twing and Wagner acknowledged June is not an ideal time of year for field tests, because students and teachers are less likely to be motivated. But because all students will be in the same boat the sample would be valid, they said.

Beth Fertig is a senior reporter at WNYC. Follow her on Twitter @bethfertig