Open Letter to the New York State Regents from New York State Professors Against High Stakes Testing
March 30, 2012
As lifelong educators and researchers, from across the State of New York, we strongly oppose New York State’s continued reliance on high stakes standardized testing in public schools as the primary criterion for assessing student achievement, evaluating teacher effectiveness, and determining school quality. We write to express our professional consensus and concern, and to offer our assistance to the Regents in generating educationally sound alternatives to high-stakes testing as the primary strategy for assessment in New York State.
Researchers and educational organizations have consistently documented, and a nine-year study by the National Research Council has recently confirmed, that the past decade’s emphasis on testing has yielded little learning progress. In New York State and New York City, the consequences of testing policies have been most disappointing.
Disparate impact on students. Numerous studies document that the over-reliance on high-stakes testing bears adverse impact on student achievement and has been accompanied by widening racial/ethnic gaps. Using New York City as an example, we see that large numbers of students are performing below proficiency. High numbers of the city’s public school graduates fail the CUNY entry tests and are required to take remedial courses. Results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) suggest a failure to achieve significant reduction in the achievement gap separating New York City’s white students from African American and Latino students since 2003. The negative effects of our high-stakes testing environment are perhaps most pronounced for English Language Learners for whom the tests were not designed, who cumulatively and consistently fail to achieve proficiency within the limited school time (a year and a day) before they are required to take the exam in English. In 2010, 24% of 4th graders labeled as ELLs were deemed proficient in English Language Arts compared to 58% of non-ELLs. By 8th grade only 4% of ELLs were classified as proficient compared to 54% of non-ELLs. It is therefore little surprise that of the 2006 cohort, only 40% of ELLs graduated after four years compared to 75% for non-ELLs.
Negative impact on educators. High-stakes testing creates adverse consequences not only for students but also for educators. Statisticians and educational researchers have challenged the validity, effectiveness, and ethics of using high stakes test scores to evaluate educators. As argued in an open letter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel by CReATE (Chicago Researchers and Advocates for Transformative Education), “There is no evidence that evaluation systems that incorporate student test scores produce gains in student achievement. [and] Teachers will subtly but surely be incentivized to avoid students with health issues, students with disabilities, students who are English Language Learners, or students suffering from emotional issues. Research has shown that no model yet developed can adequately account for all of these ongoing factors.” Given various value added measures, it is not possible to actually identify with accuracy the teachers who are most effective or least effective. This is already causing some highly effective teachers to leave the profession and may very well serve as a significant disincentive for aspiring new teachers to enter the field. The recent release of New York City Teachers Data Reports unleashed a hugely demoralizing media attack on the professional dignity of teachers.
Disparate impact on children who are disrupted by school closings. Finally, we are extremely concerned about the misuse of test scores as the primary criterion for the closing of schools. The 117 schools closings authorized by the New York City Department of Education since 2003 disproportionately affect children receiving special education services, those who receive free and reduced lunch, and those who are English Language Learners.
In conclusion, we stand with the 1400 principals who signed a petition against teacher evaluations based on high-stakes testing. We offer our intellectual support to the State to help generate public policies that bolster schools to be intellectually vibrant environments where inquiry-based pedagogy is encouraged, class sizes are reduced, educators are respected, parents are welcomed, and students are granted dignity while learning. We make ourselves available to the Regents to create just policies to transform the public schools in New York.
Bernadette Anand, Instructor and Advisor, Educational Leadership, Bank Street College
Gary Anderson, Professor of Education Leadership, NYU
Jean Anyon, Professor of Urban Education, The Graduate Center, CUNY
Lee Anne Bell, Professor, Barbara Silver Horowitz Director of Education, Barnard College
Douglas Biklen, Dean, School of Education, Syracuse University
Sari Knopp Biklen, Laura and Douglas Meredith Professor, School of Education, Syracuse University
Robert Cohen, Professor of Teaching and Learning, NYU
Edward Deci, Professor of Psychology and Helen F. & Fred H. Gowen Professor in the Social Sciences, University of Rochester
Greg Dimitriadis, Professor, Educational Leadership and Policy, University at Buffalo, SUNY
Arnold Dodge, Chair, Department of Educational Leadership and Administration, Long Island University -Post
Michelle Fine, Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Urban Education, The Graduate Center, CUNY
Ofelia Garcia, Professor of Urban Education, The Graduate Center, CUNY
Beverly Greene, Professor of Psychology, St. John’s University
Suzanne Kessler, Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Purchase College, SUNY
Wendy Luttrell, Professor of Urban Education and Social-Personality Psychology, The Graduate Center, CUNY
Ernest Morrell, Professor, English Education, Teachers College, Columbia University; Director: Institute for Urban and Minority Education (IUME); Vice President: National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)
Leith Mullings, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, The Graduate Center, CUNY
Mark D. Naison, Professor of African American Studies, Fordham University
Pedro A. Noguera, Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education, Executive Director, Metropolitan Center for Urban Education, New York University
Celia Oyler, Associate Professor and director of Inclusive Education Programs, Teachers College, Columbia University
Pedro Pedraza, Researcher at El Centro, The Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College, CUNY
Diane Ravitch, Research Professor of Education, New York University and Former Assistant Secretary of Education
Michael Rebell, Professor of Law and Educational Practice, Teachers College, Columbia University
Richard M. Ryan, Professor of Psychology, Psychiatry and Education and Director of Clinical Training, Clinical and Social Sciences in Psychology, University of Rochester
Ira Shor, Professor of English, CUNY Graduate Center
Louise Silverstein, Professor of School-Child Clinical Psychology, Ferkauf Graduate School, Yeshiva University
Carola Suarez-Orozco, Professor of Applied Psychology and Co-Director, Immigration Studies at NYU
Henry Louis Taylor, Jr. Professor of Urban History and Director of Center for Urban Studies, University of Buffalo, SUNY
Ethel Tobach, Curator Emerita, American Museum of Natural History
Sofia Villenas, Director, Latino Studies Program and Associate Professor of Anthropology and Education, Cornell University
Lois Weis, State University of New York Distinguished Professor, Educational Leadership and Policy, University at Buffalo, SUNY