A common criticism during campaign season has been that standardized testing plays too large a role in city schools. Today, some who have made the claim most loudly backed up their rhetoric with policy proposals.
In a press conference on the steps of City Hall, the teachers union and New Yorkers for Great Public Schools, a coalition that formed to oppose the Bloomberg administration’s school policies, outlined steps that the next mayor should take to end high-stakes testing and improve the Department of Education’s school accountability system.
The city should stop using a single test to admit students to gifted programs and specialized high schools, where allowed under state law, said UFT President Michael Mulgrew and NYGPS spokeswoman Zakiyah Ansari. They also said the next mayor should lobby in Albany and Washington, D.C., for policies that would minimize the role of testing and overhaul the city’s school report card system to weigh factors such as teacher satisfaction and class sizes.
Today, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio stood alongside Mulgrew and voiced his support for the proposals, calling them a roadmap for “hearing the voices of parents” who are the “first stakeholders in this equation.” Other leading Democratic candidates — former comptroller Bill Thompson, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and Comptroller John Liu — also sent in statements of support.
The proposals come just days before the union is scheduled to endorse a candidate in the Democratic primary. De Blasio is seen as a leading contender for the nod, along with former comptroller and school board president Bill Thompson.
Mulgrew pointed to the Bloomberg administration’s school progress reports, the A-F letter grades that have been given to schools since 2007, as a chief driver of the need for change. In elementary and middle schools, test scores fuel 85 percent of schools’ grades.
“We have the most focused test prep in the entire country because of the progress reports in New York City,” Mulgrew said.
Most Democratic mayoral candidates have said they would stop issuing the letter grades if they became mayor. But few have said how they would instead hold schools accountable and communicate information about them to the public.
Under the proposed accountability system, schools would be measured on “learning environment, student and teacher satisfaction, student outcomes, attendance and suspension rates, course offerings, class sizes, graduation and college readiness rates, and more,” rather than focusing on test scores.
The reports would allow the Department of Education to identify struggling schools, prioritize them, and create a “school improvement infrastructure,” which would involve getting input from teachers, students, and parents to improve the school, according to the proposal. The Bloomberg administration’s approach has been to close low-performing schools, a strategy that all of the Democratic candidates have said they would move away from.
In response to the proposed changes, DOE spokesperson Devon Puglia said schools, teachers and parents today have “more information about school quality and student performance than ever before.” But with new Common Core standards in place, the systems need to evolve, he added.
“That’s why we’ve strengthened our assessment and accountability measures, including many of the steps that New Yorkers for Great Public Schools suggests, such as expanding the use of performance-based assessment and broadening the range of information available to parents and used to prioritize support for struggling schools,” he said.