April 18, 2013
Dear Commissioner King,
I have just completed administering day 3 of New York State standardized Tests for third grade, in accordance with the policies and procedures as set forth by the New York State Department of Education, facilitated by devoted administrators and other staff working diligently to ensure proper distribution, collection, and security of all testing materials. Your message regarding adherence to testing protocols has been delivered clearly, and you now have a state full of teachers who feel that their careers are at stake should they not preserve the Pearson/NY procedures, controls and reputation.
For three days, I have kept a classroom of 3rd grade students virtually silent and in their seats for 70 minutes (plus the few minutes it took to distribute and collect materials in a way that would maintain the "security" of the tests). Three days in a row. A building of children yearning to be active, held under the thumb of tests and testing procedures.
Mr. King, the testing policies you promote are misguided in focus and confusing in how you have attempted to justify them. More discussion with all involved, and clarity of purpose moving forward is needed if you expect success. I can tell you as an educator with over a decade of experience in the classroom, all of those years in public schools serving the “main street” (not Wall Street) population, your policies are not serving students or their schools well. Not just that: they are doing more harm than good. Your experiences have not put you in proximity with, and your policies are not informed by the real developmental needs more and more students come to real public schools school with. You just don't know who the real public is, and what their children need from their schools.
Let’s pretend for a moment that “pineapplegate” never happened. Despite demands for districts and their teachers to submit to tests that didn't exist, and then you having to shrug off criticism of the poor quality that was rushed out to forward the test machine (the tests are a "work in progress"); despite the fact that true professionals were victimized, I'll set all that aside for a moment. But giving you a "pass" on that one doesn't erase:
- That early in your tenure as Ed Commissioner (May, 2011) and under the urging of future presidential hopeful Andrew Cuomo you pressured public schools into test-based teacher evaluations-even though core-aligned assessments and curriculum were not in place.
- That you were conspicuously absent in 2012 conversations (with Buffalo schools, for one) regarding how chronically absent students can impact teacher evaluations. According to you: While I accept that attendance is not solely the responsibility of educators, I reject the notion that educators do not contribute to student attendance. (explain, please, with objective measurable data/examples)
- That you have seemed to work in concert with the current governor to de-fund and overburden public schools.
- That you have allowed Rupert Murdoch's quest for power and profit intrude in the process whatsoever. Once you are involved in phone hacking into private text messages, once you go on the record in favor of publicizing nude photos of the royal family, once you openly drool over the hundred's of billions to gain in the education business,,,I think you should be barred. But guess who's in our school guts like a tapeworm? Guess what name was inside my day 3 test book?
The school and teacher-hunt agenda appears clear, and our unions have played deal-makers and triage. Teacher outrage, district frustration...all have been rebuffed.
But the disgust of parents with what is being done to their children and their schools has suddenly brought the state's defense and PR machine to life. The line is no longer how vital ferreting out bad schools and bad teachers is-it's how vital and important submitting to these tests is for the educational program of children.
Is that what I say on "day three" when I have three students cry, two lay their heads down absolutely exhausted, and one who draws an absolute blank? Well, no...that response is not allowable according to the scripted proctoring protocol.
Is that what I tell my own elementary age "level 4" daughter who has read at the high school level since third grade, but experiences anxiety at such disruptions and abnormal approaches to "learning"?
Is that what you tell YOUR children?
Oh, wait...YOUR kids don't do this in their school, do they?
Mr. King, I can tell you as a father of three gifted, brilliant and beautiful young girls who are blessed with a loving home and involved parents that I am offended by your assumptions and assertions regarding what my children or their public school peers really need. You have not spent enough time in the classroom or widened your frame of reference to truly understand what most of these children need. The testing juggernaut that you describe as some kind of education salvation is devastating, and ignores more wide-ranging, immediate and demanding unwritten mandates our public schools are silently given.
If you wish to challenge my views constructively, I welcome that challenge. I even invite you to my classroom, or my home. But if I have to see spent, crying third graders, or see that look in my daughter's eyes again, you will have some 'splainin to do.
P.S. A message from my wife: "Your tests suck, I have a better way to do it, I could save you a ton of money."
I'm telling you now Mr. King-she could do it.