Thursday, May 1, 2014

Brooklyn Teachers stand firm on Mayday

On this May Day morning my eyes are on Brooklyn and my heart is in Brooklyn.

May 1, 2014

Staff at Brooklyn’s International High School at Prospect Heights hold a press conference this morning announcing their boycott of the ELA Performance Exam.
As a Chicagoan, nothing symbolizes the spirit of rebellion against what is wrong more than May Day.
The working class holiday began in this city with the fight for the 8 hour day and the events at Haymarket Square.

This morning teachers and staff at the International High School at Prospect Heights are rebelling against the wrong that standardized testing has become.
Each staff member – teachers, psychologists and paraprofessionals – has signed on to a letter to the new New York City Schools Chancellor, Carmen Fariña.

Among the dedicated teachers whose name is on the letter printed below is my daughter Jessica Klonsky. She is a teacher at this wonderful Brooklyn high school serving the community’s immigrant students. She is a veteran of more than a dozen years teaching in the New York City School system.
This May Day morning my eyes are on Brooklyn and my heart is in Brooklyn.
Dear Chancellor Carmen Fariña,
We are New York City public school teachers at the International High School @ Prospect Heights. Over 95% of our students have recently arrived to the United States and are learning to read, write, and speak English. After much deliberation and thoughtful discussion with fellow educators, students, and parents, we have decided to abstain from administering the New York City ELA Performance Assessment.
The New York City ELA Performance Assessment serves no educational purpose for English Language Learners or their teachers. The test was constructed and formatted without any thought for the 14% of New York City students for whom English is not their first language. The level of English used in the pre-test administered in the Fall was so far above the language levels of our recent immigrant student population that it provided little or no information about their language or academic proficiencies. Despite their best efforts and determination, the vast majority of our students received zero points, even though their classwork demonstrates increasing mastery of both English and academics. Accordingly, the test is an inadequate measurement of both student learning and instructional effectiveness. What is the point of spending valuable class time on an assessment that does not inform instruction?
When we administered the test in the fall, the experience was traumatic for both students and teachers. Ultimately, the lessons our students learned were about discouragement and failure. Their first experience as high school students taking a standardized test set the stage for future anxiety and confusion in subsequent testing situations. Participating in this assessment has and will continue to negatively impact their learning experiences and their confidence in their own abilities to succeed. Our students believe in the education system in our country, and they deserve a fair chance. This test, like many standardized tests, teaches them that no matter how hard they work, they will fail.
Our Objections to the ELA Performance Assessment
The ELA Performance Assessment actively ignores the need to make accommodations for students who are learning English, such as providing reading aloud and rephrasing instructions, providing translations, etc. Such accommodations for English Language Learners are routinely given in other testing situations.
The ELA Performance Assessment is intended to measure growth for people who already know English. Our students’ growth will not be measured in this test because the test was not designed for new English language speakers. It was designed for those already fluent in English.
Our students need every minute of instructional time they can get, and we work hard to make that time productive. This test is simply not a good use of their time or ours.
Finally, 50% of parents and guardians in our school community have opted their students out of the exam.
We understand our decision to abstain from administering the test may impact aspects of our evaluations. Despite the potentially negative consequences, our professional judgment dictates that we cannot participate in this assessment. We are not willing to sacrifice the trust of our students, their feelings of self worth, and our professional duty to do what is best for them.
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.
We applaud your memo to principals instructing that they respect families’ rights to opt their children out of tests, we appreciate the respect you have already shown to educators as professionals and look forward to the changes you will make regarding the use of high stakes testing in our schools. We ask that you remove the New York ELA Performance Exam in favor of an assessment created by educators who best know the individual needs of their students and classrooms.
Sincerely, and professionally signed,
Dr. Robert Stephen Watson – 12th Grade Math Teacher
Joanna Yip – Literacy Coach
Rosemarie Frascella – 12th Grade English Teacher
Bob van Pelt – 12th Social Studies Teacher
Cynthia Chatman – Visual Arts Teacher
Melina Coppa – Music Teacher
Emily Giles – 9th/10th Grade Science Teacher
Adam Lammers – 11th Grade Science Teacher
Emily Wendlake – 9th/10th Grade English Teacher
Jessica Klonsky – 12th Grade English Teacher
Anita Feingold-Shaw – 9th/10th Grade English Teacher
Sabina Hall – 9th/10th Social Studies Teacher
Melissa de Leon – 9th/10th Social Studies Teacher
Mariano Muñoz – Parent Coordinator
Karena Brown – Social Worker
Angela Joseph – 9th/10th Grade Science Teacher
Brian Hsu – 11th Grade Math Teacher
Vadim Feyder – 11th Grade English Teacher
Anya Wislocki – 11th Grade Social Studies Teacher
Yanet Bueno – 9th/10th Grade Math Teacher
James Rice – 11th Grade Social Studies Teacher
Melissa Gitlin – Physical Education Teacher
Carlos Diaz – 9th/10th Grade Math Teacher
Jonah Misterka – 9th/10th Grade Math Teacher
Jennifer Dickman – 9th/10th Grade Science Teacher
Rachel Huang – 12th Grade Science Teacher
Linda Ponciano – Guidance Counselor
Annmarie Oliver – Special Education Teacher
Majed Seif – Paraprofessional
Kirsti Pantin – Community Outreach Coordinator

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