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New York City –What began two years ago as a small pocket of resistance has burgeoned into a full-blown protest movement: public school parents are demanding an end to the excessive use of standardized tests and top-down, corporate-backed reforms. Change the Stakes estimates that three times as many NYC school children as last year – perhaps exceeding 1,000 – will refuse to take the annual English Language Arts (ELA) and math exams that begin next week.
At the Brooklyn New School, well over 200 students – nearly 80% of students in testing grades – will not take this year’s exams; last year only 4 BNS students opted out of the tests. The estimated test refusal rate at the Earth School in Manhattan is 50%, compared with 30% last year. At P.S. 446 in Brownsville, as many as 25 3rd grade parents have submitted refusal letters. At the Academy of Arts and Letters in Fort Greene, the number is 40, representing 75% of the 3rd grade. Principals say they expect the numbers to continue to rise until the exams begin April 1st.
Although children not taking the tests span the full range from 3rd to 8th grade, parents of younger children often refuse the tests because of changes in their child’s attitude toward school as a result of the testing.
Roseanne Cuffy-Scott, parent of a 3rd grader in the East Village said, “My son used to love going to school until his evenings were filled with homework assignments that confused him with complicated and poorly written math and reading questions. His assignments are stressful for both him and myself. I have to spend hours explaining concepts that he’s not ready for developmentally.” As for the tests, she said her son is nervous and “is fearful he will have to attend summer school or repeat third grade.”
Many parents refusing to have their children tested encounter supportive principals and teachers, while others are not so fortunate. Samantha De Los Santos, parent of a 3rd grader with special needs in Queens’ District 25, wants to opt her son out but says administrators and staff are pressuring her to allow her son to be tested. “They’re telling me he’ll be scored as failing if he doesn’t take the test and that he might not be promoted. They’re really scaring me.”
The lack of direction from the NYC Department of Education has led to uncertainty among administrators about how to respond to families refusing the tests; parents are still seeking guidance from the DOE. Although the new Chancellor, Carmen Fariña, has made clear her intent to be more responsive to parents, her department’s efforts have been hampered by the transition falling in the middle of the school year and pressure to tackle a multitude of issues at once.
The information vacuum has fostered misinformation, with students being threatened with various punishments – being forced to attend summer school or denied promotion as well as being excluded from graduation ceremonies and other school celebrations – for opting out of the tests.
But many parents refuse to be dissuaded from protecting their children from a public education system gone wrong. Dawn Babbush, a 3rd grade parent in Brooklyn’s District 13, asks “What has happened to our schools? How did it get this bad? The voices of trusted educators and caring parents have been completely disregarded. Our children are being subjected to a curriculum that lacks joy and life – it’s scripted and standardized and full of test prep. Test scores are used to sort students and rank teachers, creating a climate of competition and fear. It’s no wonder teachers feel pressure to teach to the test.”
Ms. Babbush added, “This is not the education we want for our children and we will not stand for it any longer. Parents have a voice, and our elected officials need to recognize us. We’ll be paying attention come November.”
Change the Stakes (changethestakes.org) is a group of New York City parents and educators promoting alternatives to high stakes-testing.