High Stakes Testing: NYC Public School Parents Tell Our Stories

A Fourth Grader's Take on The ELA Test

(Each quoted section below was shared by a different NYC public school parent.)

“You know how we are supposed to fill out the parent survey for our schools. I say that my school is doing great in almost all of the areas because I don’t want the survey to negatively impact my school’s grade. It sounds ridiculous writing it here. But it speaks to how hard it is to act honestly when stakes are attached and data is generated. This hurts my school because they are not getting any real feedback from parents.”

“This is what my daughter’s teacher said to me about the testing: ‘This testing system is at a certain level anti-child, anti-creative (convergent thinking is stressed over divergent thinking) and limited in its real world applications. A system that does not honor the arts, or construction, or sciences, really is not helping students develop all the skills they need for the real world.’ I could not say it any better. The use of testing to threaten teacher jobs is and will create an even worse atmosphere of fear, boredom and meaningless activity at schools.”

“My child, who generally loves school, has been complaining for three months about the amount of time devoted to test prep every day. She said that her friend told her “the tests determine your life.” My child is in fourth grade. This became a “teaching moment,” but one that I wouldn’t have expected to have when my child was in elementary school. We know of many families in our schools who are using private tutors to prepare their children for the tests. We are not.”

“My daughter is in the second grade at her neighborhood public school, so she is not slated to take tests until next year. Nonetheless, the tests are depriving her of six days of teaching. Apparently, because the classrooms are too small for regulation test-taking, the k-2 classes will spend the testing days in the auditorium to make room for the 3-5 graders who are taking their tests. It’s insane.”

“I am a parent, but I also teach in a remedial program at CUNY for students who have failed all of the CUNY placement exams. I get to see the end result of the emphasis on high stakes tests, and it is devastating. My students (often graduates of New York City high schools) know test-prep strategies well, yet they fail reading tests over and over. Why? Because they hate to read and they never do it. Students who love to learn, and have curiosity and knowledge about the world, on the other hand, can do quite well in college. As a teacher who is judged by my test scores, I can see the temptation to focus on test-prep because it does raise their scores in the short-term. But over the long run, students need to learn, not do test-prep. ”

“My daughter is a pretty cool cucumber; she doesn’t stress much and has the patience and focus to sit for long stretches. Her third and fourth grade scores couldn’t have been much better. So what’s the problem? Believe it or not: trees. The pollen counts this week are OFF THE CHARTS high. The poor kid is going through packets of Kleenex and her eyes are so swollen she had to go to sleep tonight with a wet washcloth over her face—after taking a Benadryl. She will go to school this way tomorrow—slightly drugged, with streaming eyes and nose–and her teachers and her school will be publicly judged based on the tests that my child, in an allergic haze, bubbles in between bouts of nose blowing and eye wiping. No one will care that her science notebook is filled with carefully recorded observations. No one will know that she can write startlingly beautiful haiku. Certainly, the joy she derives from the dance unit she’s taking won’t factor in to her ‘adequate yearly progress.’ It’s outrageous.”

“I am so glad that the tests are this week. Finally my daughter will be able to get back to learning something real. I have watched these past three months as she has gone from a child who loves to learn to someone who hates going to school. Her writing, usually creative and thoughtful, has become boring and mindless as she is drilled in writing a “RADD” paragraph for response in the ELA test. This is the first year she has had lots of test prep. What a waste of time! I guess I should be thankful she made it this far without wasting more of her life in mindless drivel! ”

“Our child is in 5th grade at a school that doesn’t do a lot of test prep. But nonetheless she is painfully aware that there is a tremendous amount riding on the tests because of their impact on her chances for middle school admissions and the embarrassment in finding out her teachers’ performance rating. In the weeks leading up to the test she was waking up in the middle of the night terrified about a vivid nightmare about taking a test and not understanding the line of numbers. She woke up 3 different nights inconsolable. This is a kid who had only woken up because of a nightmare once before when she was 2. So the idea that this test can be viewed so innocuously by government officials with no concern for the misery it is causing our children is outrageous to me. Educators should be tuning in to the needs of our kids. The kids should not have to suffer because education dept officials have a need that they haven’t figured out how to fulfill without turning our kids inside out to try to quantify how good of a job the educators are doing. It is backwards thinking and our kids are learning a soul crushing lesson in bureaucracy at an age when they should be feeling like the system cares about them rather than it is actually put in place to judge them.”