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City Council officially petitions state to bar in-school field testing

The New York City Council is calling on state officials to do away “immediately” with standalone field tests, just weeks before thousands of city students are scheduled to take the tests.

Speaker Christine Quinn and Education Committee Chair Robert Jackson made the demand in a letter today to State Education Commissioner John King, and the full council is expected to pass a resolution Wednesday calling for the same change.

Test-makers use field testing to try out questions before they count, to see whether they are likely to provide useful results about student achievement in the future. Last month’s state reading and math tests, which were aligned to new standards known as the Common Core for the first time, included some field questions that did not factor into students’ scores. Now, 3,300 schools across the state are being told to administer hourlong, standalone field tests to some students next month.

That requirement has elicited consternation from families and educators who believe that students have already spent enough time taking tests for the year. Some of them plan to boycott the field tests, as a number did last year when field tests were given for the first time.

Quinn, who is vying for mayor, made ending field testing a commitment when she unveiled a comprehensive education plan earlier this year. Most other candidates have also decried what they say has been excessive attention to standardized testing.

The resolution suggests that if field testing must be done, the tests should be administered outside of school hours and students should be compensated for taking them.

State education officials declined to comment on the letter or resolution. But they have said repeatedly in the past that field testing is essential to producing high-quality tests for New York State. And while they told the New York Times this week that they would prefer to eliminate standalone field tests like those being administered next month, doing so would require expensive changes to the way the regular state tests are produced.

If the state does begin using online exams that are being produced for a coalition of states that include New York, as officials have said they intend, the change could obviate concerns about field testing. The PARCC assessments are scheduled to be available to states in 2015, the penultimate year of the state’s $32 million contract with Pearson to run New York’s testing program.

Pearson, which is requiring the field tests, recently made a series of embarrassing errors in grading a New York City test that has jeopardized one of its city contracts.

The company is also offering graduating high school seniors the chance to be paid to field test an exam, according to the weekly email message that the city Department of Education sends to principals. That message told principals that because the exam was not being produced for use in New York City, “you and your staff should not recruit or encourage students to participate in this activity.”

The letter and resolution are below:

Dr. John B. King, Jr.
NYS Education Department
89 Washington Avenue
Albany, NY 12234

Hon. Merryl H. Tisch
NYS Board of Regents
89 Washington Avenue
Albany, NY 12234

Dear Commissioner King and Chancellor Tisch:

As Speaker of the New York City Council and Chair of the Council’s Education Committee, respectively, we are committed to ensuring that all children in New York City have the opportunity to maximize the time they spend learning. It is for that reason that we are asking you to immediately stop the administration of stand-alone field tests.

We have heard from parents and teachers across the city who are concerned about stand-alone field tests. To begin with, many families and educators are increasingly frustrated with the national emphasis on standardized testing. They believe that it puts unnecessary pressure on their children and prevents schools from adopting rich, whole child curricula that include social studies, science, physical education, and the arts. Field tests add to this frustration.

It is imperative that we have a strong, reliable system in place to measure student progress and assess learning. We also understand that the state ELA and math exams are federally mandated. Stand-alone field tests, however, are not. Field tests disrupt instruction and cause students to lose valuable class time. And while they create another source of anxiety for some students, many students know that these tests “don’t count” and therefore do not give the exams their full focus. As a result, stand-alone field tests do not provide a reliable source of data, as the New York State Education Department noted when they needed to recalibrate the 2009 state exam scores and confirmed in yesterday’s New York Times.

As you most likely know, Pearson recently made two different scoring errors on New York City’s gifted and talented admission test. Those errors were only the most recent incident to cause New York City’s families to lose trust in Pearson. Stand-alone field tests compound that lack of trust, as parents are frustrated that their children lose out on learning time while serving as guinea pigs for a for-profit company.

For all of the above reasons, we ask you to cease the administration of stand-alone field testing, effective immediately. If there is sound pedagogical reason to test additional questions, Pearson should pay to create multiple versions of the April state exams, as the NYS Education Department suggested in theTimes yesterday, or should compensate students to take field tests outside of school hours.
Stand-alone field testing is bad for the students of New York, and we hope you will immediately end their administration.

Thank you.

Christine C. Quinn, Speaker

Robert Jackson
Chair, Education Committee

And the resolution:

Preconsidered Res. No.

Resolution calling on the New York State Department of Education to immediately stop all stand-alone field testing for students.

By the Speaker (Council Member Quinn) and Council Member Jackson

Whereas, New York State’s school children just completed mandatory standardized testing at the end of April; and

Whereas, These standardized tests are used to measure students in a variety of ways and are sometimes referred to as “high stakes” tests because, for example, they determine whether a student passes to the next grade and are used to determine admission to a particular school; and

Whereas, New York State recently adopted the federal government’s more rigorous “Common Core” standards, which will be fully implemented in 2015; and

Whereas, To prepare for the implementation, this year’s tests were tougher than any in the recent past and State education officials expect scores to drop as a result; and

Whereas, Many parents, educators and students have expressed heightened anxiety due to the use of more stringent standards and increased reliance on test scores to measure academic performance, including of students, schools and teachers; and

Whereas, As the State and its school districts work on how to administer these standards, it is proposing to administer “field tests”, which help check the methodology, design and legitimacy of future tests; and

Whereas, Field testing can be implemented by embedding questions into regular exams or by staging “stand-alone” tests that are used exclusively to help formulate future tests; and

Whereas, The results of field test questions or stand-alone tests are not used to measure students or teachers in any manner; and

Whereas, The tests that were administered in April included field test questions that were embedded in the exam; and

Whereas, However, in New York State many districts, including New York City, are planning to administer stand-alone field tests for English and math in June, near the last days of the school year; and

Whereas, Many parents and advocates believe these tests would add further stress to students who just finished such demanding exams while taking away from in-class instruction time; and

Whereas, Furthermore, numerous parents, advocates and educators believe that test preparation already narrows the curriculum by forcing teachers to prepare students for the test and that in addition, these field tests would detract from responsibilities and opportunities for teachers to engage with their students and families in a meaningful way as they prepare to end the school year; and

Whereas, Stand-alone tests are neither mandated nor necessary and their validity is questionable because if students know the tests do not carry any consequences they may not be motivated to perform well; and

Whereas, If using the field questions that were embedded in the April exams is insufficient, the State should explore alternatives such as conducting field tests outside of school time while compensating the test takers, as is done for adults; now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That the Council of the City of New York calls on the New York State Department of Education to immediately stop all stand-alone field testing for students.

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