rallying against tests

As Pearson's annual field testing ends, some want them never to start again

PHOTO: Mary Ellen McIntire
Public Advocate Letitia James (right) and parents rallied to ban field testing in front of City Hall Wednesday.

The city’s public advocate renewed calls for the state to stop administering no-stakes “field tests” on Wednesday.

At a small rally at City Hall, Public Advocate Letitia James said Pearson, the company that creates the state reading and math exams, needs to stop using students as “free specimens” for its research, known as field testing.

Test-makers use field testing to try out questions before they count, to see whether they are likely to provide useful results and help decide which questions will be on their exams the following year. But for some parents, who say the city and state have put too much emphasis on standardized testing, the field tests are unnecessary.

Lisa Rudley, a Westchester parent whose school opted out of the field testing this year, said that the exams take away time that should be spent on learning new topics.

“We need to have some better oversight,” Rudley said, calling the state’s testing policy “a runaway train.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said the city would was open to the idea of reducing the number of field tests, which were administered in more than 1,000 schools statewide over a span of eight days. But since the hourlong math and English exams are controlled by the state, the city doesn’t have the authority to outright eliminate any of the tests.

This year, students took two types of trial tests, which ended on Wednesday. Ninety-five city schools also participated in field testing for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, a consortium of states currently creating a test that state officials plan to use in the future. Some of those schools were randomly selected by the state, while others volunteered to participate.

The field tests have sparked criticism before. In 2013, a number of parents opted their students out of the tests, and the no-stakes exams became a campaign issue last year, when then-City Council Speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn said she would stop the city’s participation in field testing.

The State Department of Education has long held that the field tests are necessary because it would be too expensive to change the way state tests are produced. Though the state exams for grades 3-8 already include some field test questions, the state’s $32 million contract with Pearson does not allow the state to make more than four versions of the tests, which does not create enough questions to pull from for the future—making standalone field tests necessary.

The State Board of Regents requested additional funding to print more versions of exams, which would mean including more field test questions in standardized tests that could eliminate the standalone tests.

Even if the state legislature approved that funding, 600 New York schools were still selected to participate in field tests for the PARCC exams.

At the rally, James suggested that Pearson might end up getting faulty data back from the field tests. Since students know their results won’t count, James said, they’re less likely to take them seriously.

“They are of no consequence to students, and they are not motivated to do well on the items being tried out,” James said.

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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.