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.
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