Manhattan principals are joining their colleagues in Brooklyn in protesting the quality of this year’s state English language arts exam, which students in elementary and middle school took last week.

Two Brooklyn schools held rallies against the tests on Friday. Now, principals in District 2, which includes the Upper East Side and most of Manhattan below 59th Street, are circulating a letter that invites families to rallies at their schools at the end of the week, promising a “somewhat larger demonstration” before school on Friday.

The letter describes principals’ disappointment after realizing that the concerns that educators and families raised last year about the state’s Common Core-aligned tests were not fully addressed in this year’s exams.

“As school leaders, we supported teachers in ensuring that students and families kept the tests in perspective — they were important, but by no means the ultimate measure of who they are as readers, students, or human beings. We encouraged them to be optimistic, and did our best to do the same,” the principals write. “Frankly, many of us were disappointed by the design and quality of the tests and stood by helplessly while kids struggled to determine best answers, distorting much of what we’d taught them about effective reading skills and strategies and forgoing deep comprehension for something quite different.”

The educator-led movement comes in contrast to parent protest that reached an apex just before the exams, when hundreds of parents across the city said they were opting their children out of the tests. Few families opted out in District 2, which the principals said had been the case because they “had high hopes, and, perhaps mistakenly, assured families that this year’s exam would reflect the feedback test makers and state officials had received from educators and families.”

The complete letter being distributed by principals in District 2 is below. An early version that Chalkbeat received was signed by Adele Schroeter, principal of P.S. 59, and Lisa Ripperger, principal of P.S. 234, who together proposed a “somewhat larger demonstration” than took place in Brooklyn last week.

Community Action: Join Us in Speaking Out Regarding the NYS English Language Arts Exam

Friday, April 11th, at District 2 Schools

Dear District 2 Families,

Community School District 2 represents a richly diverse group of school communities and it is not often these days that we have an opportunity to join in a shared effort.  Last week, and for several weeks prior, every one of our upper grade classrooms devoted hours of instructional time, vast human resources, and a tremendous amount of effort to preparing students to do well on the NYS ELA exams and, ultimately, to administering them.  This week, a number of teachers will miss an entire week of instruction to score these exams. Few District 2 students opted out, in part because we had high hopes, and, perhaps mistakenly, assured families that this year’s exam would reflect the feedback test makers and state officials had received from educators and families regarding the design of the test following last year’s administration.  Our students worked extremely hard and did their very best.  As school leaders, we supported teachers in ensuring that students and families kept the tests in perspective – they were important, but by no means the ultimate measure of who they are as readers, students, or human beings. We encouraged them to be optimistic, and did our best to do the same.  Frankly, many of us were disappointed by the design and quality of the tests and stood by helplessly while kids struggled to determine best answers, distorting much of what we’d taught them about effective reading skills and strategies and forgoing deep comprehension for something quite different.

Last Friday morning, Liz Phillips, the principal of PS321 in Brooklyn, led her staff and her parent community in a demonstration objecting, not to testing or accountability, but to these tests in particular and, importantly, to their high stakes nature and the policy of refusing to release other than a small percentage of the questions.  500 staff and parents participated.

By Friday evening officials were dismissing the importance of their statement, claiming that Liz and her community represented only a tiny percentage of those affected, implying that the rest of us were satisfied.  Given the terribly high stakes of these tests, for schools, for teachers and for kids, and the enormous amount of human, intellectual and financial resources that have been devoted to them, test makers should be prepared to stand by them and to allow them to undergo close scrutiny.

District 2 schools will be holding a district wide demonstration, making sure our thoughts on this are loud and clear and making it more difficult to dismiss the efforts of one school.  On Friday morning, April 11th, at 8:00am, we invite our families and staff to join District 2 schools in speaking out, expressing our deep dissatisfaction with the 2014 NYS ELA exam. Among the concerns shared by many schools are the following: The tests seem not to be particularly well-aligned with the Common Core Learning Standards; the questions are poorly constructed and ambiguous; the tests themselves are embargoed and only a handful of questions will be released next year; teachers are not permitted to use the questions or the results to inform their teaching; students and families receive little or no specific feedback; this year, there were product placements (i.e., Nike, Barbie) woven throughout the exam. We are inviting you and your family to join together as a school community in this action, helping to ensure that officials are not left to wonder whether or not we were satisfied.

Yours truly,
District 2 Principals