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N.Y. Union: Students Shouldn't Be "Unpaid Researchers" For New Tests

Cross-posted from the Teacher Beat blog

by Stephen Sawchuk

The pressure cooker that has become testing and the Common Core in New York state continues, with the state teachers' union now calling for an end to participation in field tests being administered by the Pearson testing company. 

"New York's over-reliance on standardized tests continues to have a negative effect on our students," New York State United Teachers President Karen Magee said in a statement. "NYSUT applauds those school districts that have recently opted out of this year's field testing. Just as we support parents' rights to opt their child out of the state tests, we support those districts that are opting out of the field tests. Why should New York state students be unpaid researchers for Pearson?"

To be clear, this is field testing for New York's own exam to measure students' grasp of the Common Core State Standards, not one being developed by a federally financed assessment consortium. (New York belongs to the PARCC consortium, but is taking a wait-and-see approach on whether it will use the exam.)

The union is calling on the state to develop a bank with enough age- and grade-appropriate, reliable and valid test questions to eliminate the need for field testing. (This is a bit confusing, because it's not clear how one establishes that test items are any of those things without subjecting them to a trial run at some point.) 

In general, anti-test sentiment seems to be growing in New York—particularly with respect to anything having to do with the Pearson testing company. There has been a bill introduced in the state Senate, for instance, to prevent aspiring teachers from having to take the Pearson-administered edTPA teacher-licensing exam, which has already been delayed for teacher candidates.

NYSUT's rhetoric on testing, meanwhile, has grown more strident for months, beginning with a call for a "pause" on using the results of the exams, and proceeding to a vote calling for the ouster of state Commissioner John King, to this latest announcement.

UPDATED, 4:18 pm:  NYSED spokesman Dennis Tompkins issued this statement in response:"The [state education department] submitted a 2013-14 budget request to eliminate multiple-choice stand-alone field tests. While NYSUT's support is too late for this year's budget, we look forward to working with them next year on this shared goal. Field- tested questions are essential to ensure assessments are fair and valid. ...  Budget constraints in New York State require stand-alone field tests." 

It appears, then, that the state wants to embed its field-test items within the year-end accountability tests students already take. (Think of it a bit like those faux sections on the SAT that are there merely to test new items' technical properties.)

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