Parents and Educators Reject Official Explanations for Dismal State Test Scores


August 7, 2013

Parents and Educators Reject Official Explanations for Dismal State Test Scores:  Call for full transparency in state testing program and an end to the use of standardized  tests for promotion, teacher evaluation and closing schools

New York City – In anticipation of today’s public release of results from this year’s controversial math and reading exams, state and city education officials warn that scores will drop precipitously. Attributing the lower scores to tougher standards, officials are under fire from parents and teachers who contend this year’s tests were horribly flawed. After initially dismissing calls for the tests to be open to public scrutiny, education officials now say they plan to release selected questions. But this token gesture toward transparency is unlikely to allay concerns about the quality of this year’s tests. Nor will it quell the growing movement of parents and educators fighting to end the use of standardized tests for high-stakes purposes.

Teachers and students reported a variety of troubling problems with this year’s April exams. A 5th grade teacher from Brooklyn, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, remarked, “The directions I had to read aloud for the ELA [English Language Arts] exam were so confusing that even I had a hard time understanding them. Some of the multiple choice questions had more than one possible right answer.  And some of my students were crying because they simply ran out of time.” Her concerns were echoed by many, many others.

According to Fred Smith, a nationally recognized testing expert who spent his career working for the city’s Department of Education (DOE), “The tests were too long to be completed in the allotted time. For the ELA, there was an overall decrease of 7% in time per item as compared with last year. For math, the average time allocation dropped by 13%, ranging up to a 26% decrease in grade 3.” That kind of pressure on children should be cause for concern.

The flaws in this year’s state testing cycle extended beyond the exams themselves to how they were scored. Although teachers who scored the tests were forbidden to talk about the process, some felt compelled to speak out. “Many of us scoring the tests were troubled by the questions and scoring rubrics,” said a third grade teacher from Brooklyn who requested anonymity. “A number of questions were so poorly worded that even though some students clearly understood the concepts, they were not always given full credit.” She added, “Scoring the extended responses broke my heart. Besides being confused by the wording, many students didn’t have enough time to finish.”

Despite widespread calls for full disclosure of the tests, the State Education Department (SED) has refused to release them, citing the need to reuse questions in future years. Without being able to see the tests, and given the multitude of complaints about test quality, time allocation and scoring, parents and teachers alike reject the notion that dramatic declines in scores are a result of the new Common-Core aligned exams being “harder.” With the complete lack of transparency regarding how the tests were scored and proficiency levels determined, an increasingly skeptical public is left to wonder whether test scores rise and fall year-to-year simply to suit the latest political agenda, as when Mayor Bloomberg, seeking a third term, exploited artificially inflated scores.

Parents are fed up with the seemingly arbitrary ups and downs of scores that affect their children’s promotions to the next grade and admissions to middle- and high-school. Desiree Hardison, a Staten Island parent of a 5th grader, says, “My son has been an excellent student in the past. Now with testing and the Common Core, my son’s grades dramatically dropped. With so much riding on these scores, we deserve to see the tests and understand how they’re scored.”

Kelly Goff, parent of a 7th grader in Manhattan’s District 2, was outraged to learn that her daughter’s promotion to 8th grade was in jeopardy because of her score on the math test. “My daughter is a strong math student. She did not fail her math class; she simply didn’t pass the state test. Math is her best subject. We plan to fight hard to stop test scores from being the determining factor for promotion.” New York City is the only locality in the state that uses test scores for this purpose.

For students with failing test scores and those without scores, schools can prepare a portfolio of work to demonstrate a student is ready to move to the next grade. But instead of empowering the child’s teacher to make that assessment, the district superintendent makes the final decision. Andrea Mata’s 4th grade son was performing at and above grade level all last year, but since she opted him out of the state tests, the school assembled a portfolio and the principal recommended promotion. “But his promotion is now at risk because of misguided policies that empower district administrators to have the final say about students they don’t even know. Something is terribly wrong when recommendations from a child’s teachers are routinely disregarded with no oversight and accountability,” said Mata, who is a member of Change the Stakes.

The parents and teachers of Change the Stakes call on SED and DOE to release the contents of the April 2013 math and reading tests and to provide full transparency about how student scores were determined. More importantly, however, we call on federal, state and local policymakers to end the use of standardized tests for making high-stakes decisions about students, teachers and schools. As Dr. Isabel Nuñez, a policy professor at Concordia University, argues, “High-stakes tests may effectively measure a small set of knowledge and skills, but they do not measure higher-order thinking skills and a broad set of knowledge, and consequently, offer a very narrow picture of what students have learned and how well teachers have taught.”


Change the Stakes ( is a group of parents and educators working to reduce the harm caused by high stakes-testing, which we believe must be replaced by valid forms of student, teacher, and school assessment.