The union representing public school teachers throughout New York is setting a poor example by promoting a regressive act of protest.
New York State United Teachers recently mounted a campaign to remind parents that they have the right to keep their children from taking the state assessments being offered later this month. The union’s pitch is this: “This year has tested our kids enough. Parents: Know your rights to opt your kids out of the state tests.”
We agree that the novel coronavirus has put everyone through the wringer. It’s been especially difficult for teachers and school administrators who’ve crafted various methods of instructing students — sometimes in person, sometimes virtually and sometimes both ways simultaneously. We applaud education professionals for the innovation and flexibility they’ve exhibited in delivering the best classroom lessons possible during this time.
The U.S. Department of Education declined a request by the State Education Department this year to waive the requirement that standardized tests be administered. So the state assessments still need to be conducted, although the federal government waived the requirement to hold school districts accountable for how students perform.
Given that there will no punitive measures taken based on the results of the assessments, this is an ideal time for all children to take them. Districts can use the data to see what worked well over the past year and what didn’t. This information is essential if we’re to engage in worthwhile discussions about how to fine-tune the way education is delivered under emergency circumstances.
However, NYSUT wants people to move in the opposite direction. The union has made its opposition to standardized testing clear, and now it’s nudging parents to opt out of this year’s assessments. Perhaps NYSUT officials and members fear that poor test results will increase pressure to hold teachers accountable for classroom results, something the union has long wanted to avoid.
Standardized testing has come under scrutiny in recent years, and the judgment of many professionals is not favorable. They’ve said this isn’t the best way to evaluate how well students are performing and that effective alternatives exist.
Anya Kamenetz is an education correspondent for National Public Radio. Her 2015 book, “The Test: Why Our Schools are Obsessed with Standardized Testing, But You Don’t Have to Be,” documents several options to standardized tests:
n Sampling: Rather than test all students in certain grades, select a representative sample of them to take assessments.
n Stealth assessments: Use software to collect information on how well students do when questioned about particular subjects over the course of time, not a rush job in one day.
n Portfolio-based assessments: Incorporate signs of student achievement other ways than just testing such as projects, papers and work assignments.
There is no doubt that we all need to have serious discussions about ways to improve the system of evaluating student performance. These are excellent ideas worthy of consideration.
But the problem is they’re not methods that are ready to be used right now. State assessments remain the only way we have at this moment to judge the effectiveness of classroom instruction.
We need as much data as possible about how students did over the past year to decide what to do next. Having students opt out of these tests will result in a loss of critical information. Since we don’t know when things will return to “normal,” we must understand where to improve instruction so we can move forward if the pandemic continues.
NYSUT says students personally won’t risk anything by opting out of the assessments, and that’s true. But they also won’t risk anything by taking the tests, and we’ll gain useful information about how a health care crisis can be made less harmful when it comes to education.