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New York Lifts Ban on Teachers Discussing State Test Questions

New York State teachers have long criticized state rules that bar them from publicly discussing questions on state standardized tests even after those questions have been publicly released. Educators argued that the so-called gag order violates their free-speech protections and prohibits them from using their expertise to weigh in on the ongoing public debate over the value of the standardized tests that are used to measure their performance.

The teachers' argument won out as the state has announced on Monday that educators will not be disciplined for discussing test questions that the state has publicly released, reports the Times Union.

The move was part of the terms of a settlement for a 2014 lawsuit filed by the state's major teachers' union. The New York State United Teachers, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, filed suit in federal court hoping the courts would invalidate confidentiality agreements that the state forced the teachers who scored that year's standardized tests to sign.  The settlement clarifies that such confidentiality agreements don't apply to test items later released to the public. The state also agreed not to discipline the five plaintiffs in the case and must now pay $10,000 for plaintiffs' attorney fees.

Union leaders heralded the settlement as not just a victory for teachers but also for students as the move could help spare them from "developmentally inappropriate" tests.

"Teachers are the professionals in the classroom. Their voice is essential to public debate about the state's testing system, especially when they believe test questions are unfair or inappropriate," said NYSUT President Karen E. Magee. "This settlement reflects progress. Test questions planned for use in future exams will remain confidential. However, educators will now be able to freely speak out, as they should, when they have concerns about questions already released to the public."

New Mexico teachers won a similar concession earlier this year after the state's American Civil Liberties Union sued the education department in that state. 

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