Streams

Principal: Why My School Said No

Friday, November 01, 2013 - 04:00 AM

Math curriculum at an elementary school (Yasmeen Khan)

Editor's Note: In a rare moment of agreement, the head of the city's teachers union and a top official at the Department of Education both said this week that so-called "bubble tests" were developmentally inappropriate for children in kindergarten through second grade. While the city seeks flexibility from the state to develop alternatives, the principal of the Castle Bridge School shares why her families opted out.

 

Last June, after a breakdown in negotiations between the Department of Education and the teachers union, New York State Education Commissioner, John King, came up with a teacher evaluation plan for the city’s schools. He determined that all teachers would be rated - in part - on their students’ state test results.

But here’s the problem: schools like mine, K-2 schools, do not have state scores. So King selected an English-only multiple-choice math test for our children to take.

At the end of September, I informed the PTA that the school would administer the test in October and then again at the end of the year. A parent group promptly drafted and circulated an opt-out letter. 

When 80 percent of the parents sent me the letters (it’s now at 94 percent), I cancelled the test.

The kindergarten test created by Discovery Education is filled with questions that children who cannot read will not be able to answer. It is filled with concepts and graphics that many fourth graders would struggle with.  Giving young children a pencil and paper task that any teacher knows the students will not be able to answer is wrong. It doesn’t tell us about a teacher’s effectiveness.

Instead, it tells children that adults who are charged with their care will force them to do something that is at best meaningless and at worst damaging to their relationship to school, teachers and learning. The Montessori school that King’s own children attend would not do this sort of thing. Why is he requiring other people’s children to undertake such a degrading exercise?

The new teacher evaluation system is still integrally linked to what I consider a punitive surveillance system called “accountability.” Do we want schools to be accountable? Of course. Does the system have to measure students and teachers to within an inch of their lives to accomplish that? I think not.

What saddens me the most is that many K-2 schools administered this test without a whisper of dissent. The accountability system promotes such an atmosphere of fear and shame that principals, teachers and parents dare not speak out.

I am in the privileged position of being tenured and in a small school of choice. I do not need test data to know if the children are learning. I observe each class and meet weekly with every teacher. That’s a far more reliable feedback cycle than what I could glean from the results of a multiple choice test.

Educators deserve an evaluation system that values knowing children, teachers and principals well. Such a system can only be built on a foundation of trust. That’s what we promote at Castle Bridge and that’s what I would like to see in a re-negotiated teacher evaluation system.

Editors:

Patricia Willens

Contributors:

Julie Zuckerman

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