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Field tests’ start comes with a hoax letter and anti-testing protest

At least one city principal was duped by a fake letter that made it look like the State Education Department wants schools to make sure parents know they can opt out field testing.

After Sandra D’Avilar, the principal of P.S. 9 in Prospect Heights, distributed the letter last week, parents of almost every student who was supposed to take this month’s field test responded saying that they did not want their children to take the field test, according to parents at the school. The state is requiring schools to administer the 45-minute test, whose results do not count, so test-maker Pearson can pilot questions for future use.

But after D’Avilar learned that the letter, whose origins are unknown, was a hoax, she told the parents that she cannot honor their requests, parents said.

“We were ready to go and we did all this work to mobilize everybody and it all came crashing down at the 11th hour,” said parent Jane Harnick, who is a member of ParentVoicesNY.

The group is one of several trying to marshal opposition to high-stakes testing. It announced today during a press conference at the Department of Education’s headquarters that families at 37 schools are opting out of the field tests.

On a Facebook page for Long Islanders who oppose high-stakes tests, supporters last week said they had been contacted by State Education Department officials to tell them that the letters, which they had received, were not real. Some said they had learned that schools upstate had distributed the letters to their parents.

While some members of the group said they loved the prank, South Shore High School Principal Carol Burris, who has led a movement of educators against testing and the state’s new teacher evaluation system, had a different message.

“We should not in anyway condone or support the creation of a false document,” Burris wrote. “It is unethical, illegal, and would have put principals in a terrible position if they had distributed it. Pranks like this will turn the public against a good cause.”

(DNAInfo has a more complete story about the hoax letter’s impact at P.S. 9.)