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.”