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N.Y. Union Sues Over Common-Core Testing 'Gag Order'

New York State United Teachers sued the state education department this week, alleging that a state stipulation that teachers can be punished for discussing standardized-test items infringes on their First Amendment rights to free speech, as well as their equal-protection rights, the (Rochester) Democrat & Chronicle reports.

The lawsuit was filed Oct. 9 in federal court on behalf of five teachers who administered or scored state exams aligned to the Common Core State Standards. 

NYSUT has been criticizing the state's common-core testing rollout for some time, especially regarding the education department's decision not to publicly release all of the test items after the test is completed and graded. And it maintains that the confidentiality agreement teachers must sign pledging not to reveal the items or their answers to colleagues or students amounts to a "gag order."

"Teachers must be free to protect their students and speak out when they have concerns about state tests," NYSUT President Karen Magee said. "Instead, they are under a 'gag order' to be silent—and that is hurting children."

The state education department, meanwhile, has pointed out that test development and administration become costlier if all the test items are released, because that means they can't be reused from cycle to cycle. It has requested more funding from the legislature so that more exams and more test items can be printed. 

"Obviously, items to be used on future tests must be kept secure," spokesman Dennis Tomkins said in a statement. "We look forward to NYSUT's vigorous support for our budget request."

The back-and-forth on this issue has been going on for some time, and is part of a larger NYSUT push against standardized testing. Among others, the union has also targeted the edTPA teacher-licensing test, helping teachers to win a year's reprieve from having to pass it.

UPDATED, 10/9: It's worth noting, as New York underscored in its release, that Massachusetts has similar requirements for test security and also releases only about half of its test items.

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