Teachers Sound Off on State English Tests

Following the recent controversy around the state's English tests for grades 3-8, we invited four educators to WNYC's studios over spring break to hear why they're so critical of the tests. Three of the four work at schools that were involved in a protest rally earlier this month, organized by nearly 40 Manhattan principals.

Nicole Dixon, who teaches seventh grade at East Side Community School, said the test questions were more like trick questions.

Though she couldn't use a real example from the test, she said she saw a multiple choice question in which all four answers were reasonable.

"That’s really alarming to me, and that’s something that really takes away kids’ confidence," she said.

She also complained that teachers should be able to see and discuss all of the test questions in order to figure out where their students need to improve. The state released 25 percent of the questions last year and said it will release more this year. But state officials say since the tests are so new, they can't share all of the questions or they won't have enough material for next year. 

The state has also defended its tests by saying 300 New York educators were involved in creating and editing the questions – which are aligned with new standards adopted by New York and other states called the Common Core. But Ryan Zimmerman found them confusing. He’s a third grade teacher at P.S. 321 in Park Slope, whose principal wrote an editorial in The New York Times about the tests.

P.S. 321 teacher Ryan Zimmerman (Jen Hsu/WNYC)

"I felt like the students really were just being tested on how well of a test-taker they were, not necessarily how great of a reader they were or how great a writer they were," he said.

The teachers said they support the state's new Common Core learning standards. But Lisa Ripperger, principal of P.S. 234 in Lower Manhattan, said the tests didn't push for the same kind of critical reading and writing skills.

Lakisha Odlum, who teaches 7th grade at the Eagle Academy for Young Men in Queens, agreed. She belongs to the group Educators4Excellence, which has supported using tests in part to evaluate teachers. She was also very critical of the tests, but said they were at least better than last year's version.

"I think the reading passages were more interesting this year," she said

State math tests start later this month.