Parents Boycotting Standardized Test for Prospect Heights Third-Graders

By Rachel Holliday Smith on May 28, 2014 12:35pm 

 Parents of student at P.S. 9 in Prospect Heights say a field test due to be administered by the state Department of Education in early June is a waste of time for their children.
Parents of student at P.S. 9 in Prospect Heights say a field test due to be administered by the state Department of Education in early June is a waste of time for their children.
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PROSPECT HEIGHTS — Parents fed up with standardized testing at a local elementary school are refusing an exam they say will waste class time and only benefit test makers.

Third-graders at P.S. 9 in Prospect Heights are slated to take a “field test” in English language arts in early June, according to members of P.S. 9 Parents for Opting Out, a group organizing parents to sign letters to the school’s principal about why their kids will boycott the exam.

Field tests assess the efficacy of individual test questions, according to Pearson, the testing company hired by the state Department of Education to create exams for public schools. But parents at P.S. 9 who are opting their children out of the test said the assessment isn’t a good use of teachers’ time and treats students as “uncompensated research subjects” for a “for-profit corporation,” as the group put it in their letters.

“Taking these tests will mean more time spent taking tests and less time spent on learning,” the letter reads. “Opting out of this field test will send a powerful message and it is one that can only come from parents.”

The move comes a year after parents at the 80 Underhill Ave. school received incorrect information in a letter from their principal, Sandra D’Avilar, based on a hoax letter from the NYSED that instructed parents on how to remove their children from field testing. That letter was a fake, but this year, parents said their effort to send a message about standardized testing is very real.

“So much time that could be used for real learning is now used for test prep,” said Prospect Heights resident and fashion industry worker Jane Harnick, 48, who is opting out her daughter, a third-grader at P.S. 9. “Where’s the learning that broadens their minds and makes them deep thinkers and excites them?”

The parents of all 33 students in her daughter’s class have now opted out of the upcoming field test and other parents are working on collecting letters from families of the rest of the third-graders at the school, Harnick said.

For many P.S. 9 parents, this is their first time grappling with the opt-out question, Harnick said, and parent leaders are in communication with those who have dealt with the issue before at a neighboring elementary school.

At P.S. 321 in Park Slope, about 85 percent of parents opted out of a field test assigned to third-graders in 2012, according to PTA member and Park Slope resident Pamela Rosenberg, 48, whose daughter was in the third grade then. This year, her younger daughter is in third grade and is facing another field test assigned to the school. 

“Our kids have taken so many hours of tests this year and really, let’s just let them be with their teachers now and get some classroom education,” the full-time mom said.

At P.S. 9, the sentiment is similar. Harnick said the field test is a good opportunity to take a stand against testing without harming kids, teachers or the school because it does not count toward a student’s record, teacher evaluations or the school’s overall grade.

“There are no consequences to not taking it,” she said.

But the state education department has a different take, saying the field tests are a “crucial part of the test development process.”

“If a school or a school district doesn't participate in a field test, that school or district shifts its responsibility onto other New York State schools and districts,” said department spokesman Jonathan Burman. “Field tests offer the final opportunity to evaluate the fairness of a test question before it is used for scoring purposes on an operational test.”

A spokeswoman for Pearson referred specific questions about P.S. 9 to the state education department, saying that all testing materials designed by the company are the property of the state, which makes education policy decisions, including the decision to conduct field testing.

Harnick said she plans to deliver her opt-out letters to P.S. 9’s principal this week and that other parents plan to do the same. Though a specific date for the test has not been determined, she said, the test will be given to those students whose parents do not opt them out between June 2 and 11.

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