passing the buck

Budget cuts have more teachers missing school to score tests

Schools across the city will go short-staffed for 15 days starting as soon as next month’s state tests conclude.

As happens every year, the Department of Education is asking schools to send teachers to help grade the tests. But this year, the scoring period is 50 percent longer — 15 days instead of 10 last year — and it’s largely taking place during the school day. The changes mean schools will lose more teaching time than in the past.

Schools with more test-taking students are required to send more teachers. So a school with under 100 test-taking students will lose just one teacher from late April through early May, but a school with more than 1,100 test-takers will have to send eight to centralized grading centers.

Anna Allanbrook, principal of the Brooklyn New School, is responsible for contributing five teachers for grading this year. She has decided to send teachers that work as support staff, to keep classroom teachers inside the classroom. While she won’t need to shell out money for substitute teachers by distributing staff in this way, she is still at a loss.

“It costs me time because they’re not doing what they’re normally doing,” Allanbrook said. “I often wonder if they put all that money into something else if it would improve student performance.”

The tests have undergone changes this year to make them longer and include “field” questions that are aligned to new Common Core standards but won’t factor into students’ scores. Allanbrook said she thought the changes could prove burdensome for young students.

But the experimental questions will be graded by machines, not teachers, and the longer test is not the reason for the extended scoring period, said DOE officials. Instead, they blamed the change on budget cuts and a lack of aid from the state.

Grading the exams each year costs the city $10-15 million, Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky told the City Council today, a cost that is mandated — but not funded — by the state. New York is unique in its reliance on local districts to bear the costs of scoring state tests.

This year, with a thinner central-office budget, the department had less money available to pay teachers to grade exams during after-school hours, Polakow-Suransky explained in a statement.

That means that schools are bearing the burden of the cost. They either have to pony up for substitute teachers or pay $1,500 per scorer per five days of scoring to keep their teachers in the classroom. The payments, which 66 schools have elected to make this year, are used to replace would-be-scorers with others who are paid for each day that they work.

The principal of a Manhattan middle school said that he found out midway through the year, in December, how many teachers he would have to contribute (four per week) and for how long (three weeks). He decided to shell out $9,000 of school funds to pay to keep two of the four teachers in the classroom during that time.

“Finding four capable subs when everyone else in the city is looking for them, would be very challenging,” he said.

This year the city has placed members of the Absent Teacher Reserve as substitutes, but most will not be able to fill the gaps created during the grading period because most ATRs are high school teachers and cannot grade elementary and middle school exams.

The principal added that classroom teachers have irreplaceable expertise in terms of managing their classes and understanding their students – expertise that has more value in the classroom than in a centralized scoring location.

“Any policy that removes classroom teachers from the classroom should be rethought,” he said. “You’re holding these same teachers accountable for improving scores on the tests, but you’re taking five days of instruction away from them.”

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.