7:29 p.m. | Updated It resembled a street carnival. Excited children in bright colors, holding up scarecrows and blowing bubbles, were being serenaded by the raucous sounds of the Rude Mechanical Orchestra.
But the scarecrows were christened "Bloomberg," "Tisch" and "Cuomo." The children held up placards that said things like “No More Testing. My Brain Is for Learning!” And sprinkled throughout the crowd were posters and cutouts of pineapples.
This was no celebration. These children and their parents, several hundred in all, were gathered in Midtown to protest the “field tests,” which are experimental tests that Pearson, the state-contracted test-maker, uses to develop future tests.
The rally was organized by a coalition of groups, including ParentVoicesNY, Time Out From Testing and Change the Stakes. Since children had the day off, the organizers had urged their parents to bring them to what they called a “field trip against field tests.”
Some children complained about the way the tests were being used. “You could be a really bad scholar and actually get a good grade on these tests,” said Jackson Zavala, a third grader whose mother kept him out of April’s standardized tests. “So they’re not judging you by your regular brains.”
Max Servetar, a sixth grader, said he barely learned anything new in April. “We spent so much time preparing for the test,” he said. “And then we do all this testing. And it stops everything.”
Max also complained about the quality of the questions. “Some questions we hadn’t even studied yet,” he said, “and my teachers couldn’t decide which answers were right for some of the questions.”
The stand-alone field tests — which began Tuesday and continue through next Tuesday — follow April’s state-mandated English Language Arts and math tests, which also contained a number of field questions. This rally was another sign of the growing discontent with the proliferation of standardized testing.
A spokesman for Pearson said that the company "does not set state policies – that’s not our role. Our role is to help states implement their policies and programs.'' The company issued a statement, which is reprinted below.
Martha Foote, a parent, said test scores were being used for promotion, graduation, school closings and even as excuses to rate and fire teachers. Parents are frustrated, said Ms. Foote, who opted to have her son not take part in the science field tests late last month, and this rally was an outlet. “We had so many parents who were ready to go, and they just needed an opportunity to express this.”
Some of the people who showed up hadn’t been directly affected by the tests. Jim Cardiello, a school bus driver from Local 1181, said parents had told him that their children were exhausted from the long and frequent tests. “We transport all the children in New York City, so we’re here to support them.”
Other parents, like Polly Kanevsky, had children who are still too young to take the tests. But parents like her are still concerned, she said, because Pearson plans to start standardized testing for kindergarten by 2014.
Speaking above the din of drums and trumpets as the crowd made its final march around the block, Lisa Cowan, whose fifth grader and second grader both attend public schools, said tests were important. But, she emphasized, they had to be used to assess children and inform teaching.
“This kind of draconian system is helpful to nobody,” she said.