Open Letter to the Chancellor

Open Letter to Chancellor Carmen Fariña


April 1, 2015

Dear Chancellor Fariña,

Today public school children across New York City begin three days of intensive, high-stakes testing, which will be followed by three more such days later this month. As you know, hundreds of parents (perhaps more) across the city are refusing to allow their children to be tested. We appreciate the guidance your department released directing principals to respect parent refusals.*

Yet in the past week, Change the Stakes has received scores of complaints from parents whose inquiries about refusing the tests have been met with misinformation, intimidation and outright threats from administrators. We urge you to immediately put a stop to such behavior, which has no place in our schools.

Here is some of what we’ve heard. Parents have been told flat out their children won’t be promoted if they refuse the tests; others have been told that refusal would jeopardize promotion. This is particularly frightening for parents of special needs children and parents of children who have been deeply and negatively affected by the pressure and anxiety surrounding the tests. Parents also have been told their children will be excluded from school activities and celebrations if they don’t take the tests. And many have simply been told without explanation their children MUST take the tests.

Perhaps most disturbing is what parents have reported hearing from their children: students themselves have been told that if they don’t take the tests, they will be held back, forced to attend summer school and/or prohibited from playing sports, attending school functions and participating in graduation ceremonies.

All of this is hardly surprising after a dozen years in which Mayor Bloomberg demanded that educators produce improvements in test scores or else jeopardize their schools’ standing potentially leading to closure. Further, the kind of bullying behavior we’re seeing from some principals and superintendents is the inevitable result of the enormously high stakes the state has attached to test scores – when threatened, people often threaten others, apparently even children.

Although we know the city alone cannot undo the high-stakes nature of the current testing regime, you can prohibit threats and intimidation on the part of Department of Education administrators. You have made the determination that principals must respect the right of parents to refuse the state tests. We call on you now to reinforce that message.

Many parents are afraid to speak publicly about what is going on for fear of angering school officials who might take out their resentment on their children. Parents and students need, deserve and would be grateful for an immediate and forceful response on their behalf.


The parents and educators of Change the Stakes