Advocacy organizations and more than two dozen lawmakers are asking the state education department to reschedule standardized math tests to allow students to participate in rallies for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.
The letter, sent Thursday, also asks state officials to encourage districts to allow “teach-ins” about climate change on Earth Day, which is Wednesday, April 22. The state mandates that paper-based math tests be administered over the course of two days between April 21-23, while computer-based tests must be taken between April 20-27 (Just 25 city schools gave state tests on computers last year.)
Student protests and walkouts are common lately, with many focusing on fighting racism and segregation at city schools. Last March and again in September, many students across the city walked out of class to raise awareness about climate change in solidarity with peers around the world.
Scheduling the tests on Earth Day is “disrespectful” to students, said Maya Vatury, an eighth-grader at Brooklyn’s Math and Science Exploratory School in Brooklyn, in a press release about the letter.
The letter to state officials said it would be an “anathema to the purpose of education” to require students to spend Earth Day taking tests, rendering them unable to participate in climate strikes. Among the New York City-area lawmakers who signed the letter were vocal testing critics Councilman Mark Treyger and Manhattan Democratic Sen. Robert Jackson.
The state education department is reviewing the letter and noted that Earth Day is “an important day of recognition and a valuable teaching tool for New York schools,” an official said. The official noted that schools are not required to administer the exam on April 22 — which falls in the middle of the acceptable time range — and can choose any two of the three days between April 21-23. Testing schedules are set and shared more than a year in advance and are devised with the input of district leaders, the official said.
But Liat Olenick, a science teacher at Brooklyn Arbor elementary school, said she’s “never heard” of schools administering the exam on days that aren’t back-to-back.
The effort to reschedule the test started when Olenick, one of the founders of Indivisible Nation BK — a group that advocates for civic participation and has recently focused heavily on climate change — was brainstorming with another group called Teachers For The Future about climate-focused lessons and activities for Earth Day. During their meeting, Olenick grabbed a calendar to see when Earth Day was.
“Then we realized the math test was scheduled on Earth Day, and that would mean hundreds of thousands of kids and their teachers wouldn’t be able to participate in the day,” Olenick said. “I reached out to Robert Jackson’s office after that.”
In the press release, Jackson said allowing children to strike that day would be a lesson in civic participation. After participating in a climate strike with students last September, Jackson said he “cannot imagine asking them to sit for a days-long standardized test on such an important day as Earth Day 50. That’s why I gathered my colleagues to join the call to Interim Commissioner [Shannon] Tahoe to move the test date.”
Read the text of the letter below:
April 22, 2020, will be a monumental day in students’ lives: It is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, in a year that has seen unparalleled youth-led activism demanding action on the climate emergency. It is also the second day of the New York state-wide grades 3-8 standardized math test.
As elected and community leaders, we call on you to reschedule the state test and instead support a state-wide climate teach-in on Earth Day 50.
The future of every student across the state hangs in the balance. Large parts of the world are literally on fire because of a changed climate. Ecosystems are collapsing. Coastal cities are seeing unprecedented flooding. The UN has warned we have approximately eight and a half years to cut global greenhouse gas emissions in half, or face an increasingly uninhabitable earth. By scheduling a standardized test for this date, you are telling young people that their future doesn’t matter.
Thousands of middle and high school students are already planning on striking on this Earth Day, recognizing the importance of this moment. But not all students have access to climate strikes: It requires parent support and exposure to both climate science and models of civic engagement, something that many privileged students have, but that the majority of our students lack. All students should be able to participate in this movement that will determine the shape of their futures.
Requiring hundreds of thousands of elementary and middle school students to spend their Earth day silently completing scantron sheets while the Earth is in crisis is anathema to the purpose of education. We feel that, instead of ignoring this tremendous opportunity to support student activists fighting for their own survival, New York school districts should make climate science, engagement, and solutions accessible to all students by holding Earth Day 50 teach-ins for those who are unable to participate in the student climate-strike.
Please reschedule the math test, support student strikers, and provide resources for schools to hold climate-teach ins in honor of Earth Day 50.
Full list of signers:
Senator Robert Jackson
Senator Brian Benjamin
Senator Roxanne Persaud
Senator Liz Krueger
Senator Julia Salazar
Senator Zellnor Myrie
Senator Rachel May
Senator Alessandra Biaggi
Senator Pete Harckham
Senator Jessica Ramos
Assemblymember Inez Dickens
Assemblymember Robert Carroll
Assemblymember Walter Mosley
Assemblymember Felix Ortiz
Assemblymember Richard Gottfried
Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell
Assemblymember Aravella Simotas
Assemblymember Joanne Simon
Assemblymember Nathalia Fernandez
Assemblymember Jeffrion Aubry
Assemblymember Taylor Darling
Assemblymember Barbara Lifton
Council Member Mark Treyger
Council Member Brad Lander
Council Member Costa Constantinides
Fridays For Future NYC
Teachers for the Future
Sunrise Movement NYC
People’s Climate Movement New York
Class Size Matters
NYC Opt Out
Indivisible Nation BK
Empire State Indivisible
Queens Climate Project
New York City DSA
Jackson Heights People for Public Schools
One Queens Indivisible
Extinction Rebellion Youth