City Principals Mutiny Against State Tests, Refuse to Use for Admissions
NEW YORK CITY — A group of 15 principals from across the city announced this week they will no longer be using results from a controversial new state test as part of their middle and high school admissions criteria.
In a letter to parents, students and school communities, the principals — from Manhattan, Brooklyn and The Bronx — explained their dissatisfaction with the Common Core tests, which they said did not live up to their expectations.
"Inauthentic tests and test prep are taking away time for quality instruction and authentic learning and testing," the letter stated.
The principals wanted to send a political message and take action, said Mark Federman, one of the signatories and principal of East Side Community High School. They also hope to start a conversation across the city and with New York State Education Commissioner John King, he said.
"The idea is that we want to send a message to elementary schools that even if you don’t teach to the test, this is not your only way to get [students] into strong middle schools," said Federman. "A test isn’t going to define the kid."
The reaction from many parents to the news is "dancing in the streets," reported Lisa Donlan, the president of District 1's Community Education Council in Lower Manhattan, who said a large number of parents in her district instructed their children to boycott the tests.
"These are all educators who have been lighting the way," she said of the group, and who are "interested in moving away from these gamed standards."
The tests' length and format "induced unnecessary anxiety, causing many student to second-guess themselves," the letter asserted, a claim reiterated by parents and educators.
"Children were crying and hitting themselves in the head with their pencils and calling themselves 'dumb.' This is counterintuitive," said TriBeCa parent Tricia Joyce, who has 9-year-old twins at P.S. 234.
Edith Baltazar, a parent at P.S. 87, whose child is headed to middle school in the fall, said the letter was a "welcome clarion call."
"It is fantastic that our educators are speaking up on behalf of our kids and for all taxpayers who are footing the bill for these tests," she said.
The principals' decision to change their admissions policies stemmed from a group discussion about the tests, Federman said.
"It’s very easy to blame the system, but sometimes we have to check ourselves," said Federman, adding that principals believe they have the power to strip the tests of some of its influence.
The principals are hoping more school leaders will join in, and that the decision will spark debate — but they had to act quickly, Federman said.
"We wanted to get the letter out before the test scores come out; we don’t want it to look like a reaction to how our kids do [on the tests]," he said.
So far, the DOE has been "very supportive" and "empathetic," said Federman, who said the DOE does not mandate which criteria schools use in admissions.
His school relies on a collection of student measures — including grades, student writing and portfolios — and testing was just one part of the puzzle, he said.
A New York State Education Department spokesman said the relationships between admissions and test scores are "local decisions," and within the purview of the Department of Education.
Erin Hughes, a DOE rep, offered this statement in reaction to the letter: "We have said from the beginning that no one school or student would be disadvantaged because the state made the tests harder this year. Students will be compared to each other and not to previous years' scores.”
The signatories on the letter, which was dated May 21 with copies sent to the DOE and the New York State Education Department, are:
Rex Bobbish, Principal of The Cinema School
Ramon Gonzalez, Principal of The Laboratory School of Finance and Technology
Kourtney Boyd, Principal of The School for the Urban Environment
Taeko Onishi, Principal of Lyons Community School
John O'Reilly, Principal of Arts & Letters
Sonhando Estwick, Principal of Tompkins Square Middle School
Mark Federman, Principal of East Side Community School
Rosemarie Gaetani, Principal of Simon Baruch Middle School
Stacy Goldstein, Principal of School of the Future Middle School
Peter Karp, Principal of Institute for Collaborative Education (ICE)
Herb Mack, Principal of Urban Academy Laboratory High School
Kelly McGuire, Principal of Lower Manhattan Middle School
George Morgan, Principal of Technology, Arts and Science Studio (TASS) Middle School
Lisa Nelson, Principal of Isaac Newton Middle School
Jeanne Rotunda, Principal of West Side Collaborative Middle School