Critics of the state English exams marched around P.S. 87 on the Upper West Side early Friday morning, chaperoned by their parents. The young demonstrators hoisted up handmade signs that read, “We Need Better Tests,” and “Too Much Pressure for 3rd Grade,” with frowny faces inside the O’s.
The students joined parents and educators from nearly 40 schools in Manhattan, along with a couple in Brooklyn and Queens, who took to the sidewalks outside their own schools Friday to protest the state English exams, which students sat for last week.
The exam backlash has been fueled by teachers and principals who said they were disturbed by confusing test questions that seemed disconnected from the state’s Common Core learning standards. Many parents, already anxious about the number of tests students must take, were alarmed to hear educators’ reports about the tests, much of which is not released to the public.
“When we heard teachers say they felt the tests were outrageous, how could we not trust what our teachers say?” said Ann Binstock, the mother of a fifth-grade student at P.S. 87.
“There are enough red flags,” she added, “that we can’t just continue to talk about this in the schoolyard anymore.”
The protests, which drew hundreds of people to some schools before the start of classes, followed a speech Thursday by New York State Education Commissioner John King, in which he fiercely defended the state’s education initiatives, including the new standards and tests.
He described recent debates over those efforts as “noise” and “drama,” and attributed some of the outcry to “misinformation.” And while acknowledging that some schools spend too much time preparing for tests, he insisted that the state had worked to reduce testing time. He added that the new Common Core exams “are better tests” than previous ones.
His comments struck a nerve with some of the principals, who usually avoid getting involved in education’s political fights, but felt impelled to refute the notion that misinformed members of the public were stirring up unrest about the tests.
P.S. 59 Principal Adele Schroeter said the hundreds of parents and students who filled the streets around her Midtown school Friday morning were “more than noise and drama, in spite of what John King might say.”
The demonstrations sprang up outside schools across Manhattan and in parts of Brooklyn and Queens.
More than 100 people rallied outside of P.S. 11 in Chelsea. At the P.S. 343 the Peck Slip School, a small school housed inside the education department’s headquarters, about 50 parents and staff members demonstrated.
At P.S. 131 in Chinatown, parents and teachers held a silent protest — the first ever at the school.
“For our parents, this is their first protest in their lives,” said Principal Phyllis Tam. “I am so proud of them.”
Some 200 parents, students, and staff also rallied outside P.S. 10 in Brooklyn and about 40 people gathered outside P.S. 244 in Queens.
“The more parents and community members learn about how unfair this year’s test was,” said P.S. 244 science teacher Christian Alberto Ledesma, “the more they want to be a part of the movement.”
Many parents criticized state restrictions that keep the public from seeing most of the test questions and prohibit educators from describing them. They also called references to brand-name products in some of the reading passages “product placement.”
A spokesman said that while the state education department only released 25 percent of last year’s exam questions, it plans to release “significantly more” this year. He added that the exam’s reading passages come from previously published articles and stories, and that if they contain references to company names, the state does not remove them.
Back at P.S. 87, after the demonstrators finished their march around the school Friday morning, they chanted, “Show us the test!” and “Just say nay to ELA!”
After that, the students scurried inside for the start of the school day.