Opinion: Chancellor Should Take a Stand on Field Testing

Friday, June 06, 2014 - 04:00 AM

School Hallway (Yasmeen Khan)

Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña missed a crucial opportunity this week, as field tests started in schools across the city. She should have told parents and school leaders that they could choose whether to let their children participate or not.

This is the third straight June that the New York State Education Department and test publisher Pearson have made children from third through eighth grade face field testing instead of field trips in the 10-day period of June 2-11. They affect 3,619 schools statewide, including 1,427 in New York City.

To clarify, field tests contain multiple-choice questions that Pearson is trying out on children to see how they perform. Not they the children but they the test items.

Think of it as research. The test results are reviewed to see how difficult each item was and how it worked to separate high- from the low-scoring children.

The aim is for Pearson to develop and sell a product, in this case New York’s testing program. The better field test items will be selected for next year’s English and math exams—where children’s performance on them will count.

Entering her sixth month on the job, the field tests pose a challenge to the chancellor and will in part define what she stands for.

The tests give her an opportunity to advance two stated goals: 1) To reduce the over-emphasis that has been placed on testing and the amount of time and resources devoted to test-related activity; and 2) To respect parents, listen to their concerns and foster involvement in their children’s education.

Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez wrote about other New York school districts that simply returned the unopened box of tests back to the publisher. He also quoted a Department of Education spokeswoman saying the chancellor may re-consider the city’s position for next school year. But what about now?

Here are some arguments the chancellor could use:

  • Because students know the stand-alone field tests don’t count and are of no consequence to them, they are not motivated to do well, especially in lovely June weather. This skews the data and fails to provide Pearson with reliable “intelligence” needed to furnish good exams.
  • Proof that stand-alone field testing is an unworkable approach to test development lies in the poorly constructed ELA and math exams that were given in 2012 and 2013. Witness the criticism from teachers and parents across the state on both exams.
  • The field tests have proceeded because the state has created a top-down system that inhibits principals and teachers from telling parents about them or seeking permission for their children to take them.
  • A definitive analysis of federal legislation and state rules and regulations has found no legal basis requiring schools to give, or parents to go along with, the tests.

Fariña could prove she means what she said about less testing and greater parental engagement by announcing the June tests are upon us and directing schools to spread the word to parents immediately, inviting them to consent to the field tests or to say one word: “No.”


Fred Smith


Comments [4]

DZ from New York City

First I want to say thank you Fred Smith for keeping the heat up on this indefensible practice of Field Testing experimentation on students that has gone unreported for years and years producing seriously flawed data, and costing millions to a Department of Education that uses austerity measures on its teachers and students. The entire practice of field testing is ill conceived. As a person who has has conducted research and reported on validity and reliability and who has been a participant in research, I know the basic principle of experimentation and data collection is a motivated and serious subject, one who tells you the truth about the probes. That is not the case with students who take the field tests in June, after months and months of test prep and testing, and when they are ready to go on summer vacation. What the tests produce is flawed data that then gets used to create more tests and continues to deny students a real education. I learned all this from you Fred Smith. All principals should be shipping these tests back to where they came from and informing parents that they do not have to participate.

While Chancellor Fariña says she is there to change the tone and culture of the Department of Education, her first 100 days plus have not demonstrated a change in the practice of testing. Chancellor, we need to see more decisive actions from DOE that eliminate Pearson standardized testing and abuse of children, one that entrusts teachers freedom in the classrooms and empowers them in their school communities, and see assessments that reflect student work across a multiple of disciplines, not just Math and Literacy.

My students have had enough of testing and they deserve to spend time exploring the rich City in which they live, learning from the culture around them and being allowed to play and be children. Parents say NO and check out CHANGETHESTAKES.ORG for more.

Jun. 07 2014 10:08 PM
guest from NYC

And the students coming to NYC high schools do not know now to do anything nor do they have any reservoir of exciting educational experiences to share. They never learned to sing in a music class, have not learned how to attend a public performance, missed all the wonderful dance festivals that schools used to do in June, have not been to a museum of any kind, nor even read a book. (Most school libraries are quietly being closed despite NYS requirements. So much for literacy.) They take no care with any kind of quiz or test since they have been taught that tests are meaningless. The vast majority of grade nine kids are failing two subjects a year, but social promotion has been institutionalized. They will be passed on to the next grade anyway. Guidance counselors are being pressured to make "alterations" as we speak and teachers are denigrated as incompetent if their charges ignore school-related responsibilities.

To graduate high school,they will put you in an APEX class for a few hours a week. (Schools spend another fortune on this one.) All you have to do is switch over to google and cut and paste all the answers off the web. You get to skip all the nasty stuff like showing up for school each morning, doing homework each night, taking the quizes your teacher provides, handing in lab assignments,and engaging in any structured school life. You even get to skip Common Core. Teachers and counselors are outraged. Principals silence them by handing out some per session pay. Principals are furious, too. But anyone with a shred of integrity will not be a principal for long. Graduation rates have been set downtown for years, and high school principals are expected to meet the quota.
NYC diplomas are not worth the paper they are printed upon. A pity for the high achievers who are devalued like trash.
So,it's "business as usual" under the "leadership" of Farina and DiBlasio...

Jun. 07 2014 08:14 AM
Katie Lapham from Brooklyn

Here's an excerpt from my most recent blog post. I thank Fred Smith for all his hard work.
“Children First. Always.” is the motto of the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE). I rage inside whenever my eyes happen to fall upon this misappropriated phrase – a leftover from the Bloomberg reign – on the NYCDOE’s home page.

It is at once laughable and insulting to make such a claim as New York State education policy puts corporations, like Pearson, first. Next week Pearson, together with its bedfellow, the New York State Education Department (NYSED), will begin administering stand-alone field tests. The official assessment window is June 2-11, and the administration of these tests follows a flurry of test-taking that has left both students and educators in New York City burned out and fed up. Is this what ed deformers mean by grit? Here’s what our elementary and middle schools have endured since April 1, 2014:

Pearson’s Common Core ELA assessment (three days)
Pearson’s Common Core math assessment (three days)
Four-part Common Core-aligned NYSESLAT (NYS English as a Second Language Achievement Test) – speaking, listening, reading comprehension and writing (for English-language learners ONLY)
Measures of Student Learning (MOSL) ELA Performance Assessment for schools that chose this as their local measure for teacher effectiveness rating purposes
Measures of Student Learning (MOSL) Math Performance Assessment for schools that chose this option as their local measure for teacher effectiveness rating purposes
New York State Science Performance Test (grades 4 & 8 only)
New York State Science Written Section (grades 4 & 8 only)
Chinese Reading assessment (for students in grades 3-12 receiving bilingual or dual language instruction in Chinese)
Spanish Reading assessment (for students in graders 3-12 receiving bilingual or dual language instruction in Spanish)
CTB/McGraw-Hill Mathematics Benchmark Assessment Aligned to NYC Core Curriculum Option Go Math! (optional, not all schools participated)
CTB/McGraw-Hill English Language Arts Benchmark Assessment (optional, not all schools participated)
ELA and Math portfolio assessments for potential holdover students
Change the Stakes, a New York City-based parent and teacher group that opposes high-stakes testing, has done an admirable job of raising awareness of the detriments of field testing. They report that 1,682 NYC public schools have been assigned to field test either the math or ELA test, and another 103 are signed up for the science field test.
Our students are suffering. I support Change the Stake’s call to opt-out of the upcoming stand-alone field tests. The New York City Department of Education should do the same. They truly need to put our children first.

Jun. 06 2014 05:16 PM
Edith Baltazar from Manhattan

Thank you, Fred Smith. Our children are not unpaid research and development staff for Pearson. Parents sign permission slips for field trips; the same should be done for field tests. The list of schools in NY state assigned to field tests is here--

Jun. 06 2014 05:44 AM

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