Staff at Prospect Heights High School Plan Test Boycott

By Rachel Holliday Smith on May 1, 2014 7:28am 

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 Thirty teachers signed a letter indicating their refusal to administer a standardized test to their students Thursday at the International High School at Prospect Heights.
Teacher protest at the International High School at Prospect Heights
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PROSPECT HEIGHTS — Thirty staff members at a Prospect Heights high school plan to refuse to administer a standardized test to their students that's required by the city for the new teacher evaluation system.

The educators said the new test given to city high schools is not appropriate for those who are not native English speakers and it “serves no educational purpose” for the students or teachers.

In a letter addressed to Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, teachers and staff of the International High School at Prospect Heights said the New York ELA Performance Exam was made “without any thought to the 14 percent of New York City students for whom English is not their first language.”

The test is due to be taken Thursday.

According to the school’s website, IHSPH “empowers recent immigrant students,” specifically tailoring its curriculum for those learning English.

The test, called the Measures of Student Learning Performance Assessment, counts toward 20 percent of a teacher's evaluation. Another 20 percent is determined by the standardized state tests and 60 percent is based on teacher observations.

When the students at International High took a similar test at the beginning of the year to determine the students' "baseline" performance, it was a "traumatic" experience, teachers said, noting that the vast majority of the students received zero points "even though their classwork demonstrates increasing mastery of both English and academics," according to the letter.

Thirty people who work at the school signed the letter, 24 of them teachers. The authors acknowledge their decision to not give the test may impact their evaluations but, “despite the potentially negative consequences,” they said they cannot participate in the exam.

“In good conscience, as educators dedicated to the learning of our students and the welfare of our school communities, we are not administering this test,” the letter read.

At a press conference held before the school day began Thursday, those who signed the letter stressed they would not boycott other required exams, such as the Regents. The group would not answer questions about whether their refusal to give Thursday's test was supported by the school administration.

When contacted for comment on the planned abstention, school principal Nedda de Castro referred questions to the city Department of Education.

A spokesman for the DOE said officials have been in contact with the school and “have been assured that the assessments will be offered as planned” Thursday, adding that the exam has “no stakes” for students at the school, though their results help inform teaching methods and teacher ratings.

The protest is the latest against high-stakes testing and new Common Core curriculum standards.

Parents protested the exams at P.S. 321 in Park Slope and then at scores of Manhattan schools earlier this month, while parents at dozens of schools across the city have opted their child out of taking the tests.

Comedian Louis C.K. took to Twitter earlier this week to sound off on how the tests were affecting his daughter.

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