Principal-ed Response

Troubled by the state reading test, Manhattan principals decide to protest

PHOTO: Geoff Decker
A protest in 2014 at P.S. 321 in Park Slope against the state English exams. The number of families who opted out of those tests increased dramatically this year.

Manhattan’s District 2 spans well-heeled neighborhoods from Tribeca to the Upper East Side and includes some of the top schools in the city, which tend to ace the state exams, not protest them.

And yet about three-dozen schools in the district and nearby are planning to hold rallies Friday morning to protest this year’s Common Core English exams, which students took last week.

Plans for the demonstrations were still coming together Thursday when the state education commissioner gave a speech in which he acknowledged parents’ frustration with testing, but forcefully defended this year’s exams. But unlike recent test boycotts led by a small but growing group of parents, educators are spearheading the Manhattan protests — which follow a principal-led rally in Brooklyn last week.

In both boroughs, the principals behind the latest outcry generally support testing and the state’s new standards, and they typically steer clear of street protests. At P.S. 11 in Chelsea, for instance, the sight of sign-carrying demonstrators outside the school is so unusual that teachers took time earlier in the week to discuss the idea of protests with students, said principal Bob Bender.

“We’ve never had a demonstration like this at P.S. 11,” he explained.

But, like more than 30 other principals in his district, he was jolted into action by last week’s tests.

“I have never seen a more atrocious exam,” he wrote in a recent letter to parents, inviting them to join the protests.

The idea for Friday’s demonstrations began with two District 2 principals who had once worked under Liz Phillips, principal of P.S. 321 in Park Slope. Phillips organized last week’s protest, then wrote an op-ed in Thursday’s New York Times denouncing this year’s English exams along with state rules that bar educators from revealing their contents.

The Manhattan principals wanted to prove that other educators shared Phillips’ concerns, so they began contacting other principals who they knew were dismayed by the tests. By Thursday afternoon, 37 principals had promised to take part in the protests.

P.S. 234 principal Lisa Ripperger, one of the school leaders who once taught at P.S. 321, said the principals felt a responsibility to speak out against the tests since the general public is not permitted to see them.

“It’s increasingly obvious to me that people need some leadership,” she said, “and they’re looking to school leaders to voice that.”

Echoing criticisms of the exams that other educators have posted online, the Manhattan principals said the tests did not measure the type of analytical reading and writing they associate with the Common Core standards. They also argued that the tests were too long and many of the multiple-choice answers were bafflingly similar.

“I have a double masters and some of them could be A or C,” said Medea McEvoy, principal of P.S. 267 on the Upper East Side, one of the schools planning to protest.

The principals also said that confidentiality rules shield the test maker, publishing giant Pearson, from public scrutiny. And because only a portion of the test questions are eventually released, they said, teachers cannot rely on them as instructional tools.

The school leaders added that, considering all the flaws they found in the exams, they do not trust the state’s new evaluations that rate teachers partly on their students’ test scores.

In his speech Thursday, New York State Education Commissioner John King stood firmly behind the teacher evaluations, the standards, and the new tests that measure those standards.

Insisting that “the facts around testing seem to get lost,” he said the Common Core exams ask students to think critically and demonstrate skills they will need later in life.

“They are better tests,” he said.

Don’t miss the latest news about New York City schools: Follow Chalkbeat NY on Facebook.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at [email protected]

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

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.”