President's perspective

Why we need a moratorium

The UFT is calling for a moratorium on attaching high-stakes consequences to the New York state tests. Given how the Department of Education and the state have botched the implementation of the Common Core standards in New York City, this is the only fair solution to the problems that our students and our teachers face.

We aren’t saying to stop testing. We’re saying it isn’t fair to make high-stakes decisions about students, teachers or schools based on the test results until the horribly mismanaged transition to the new learning standards at city schools has been fixed.

It’s now about six weeks after the start of school, with 15 percent of the school year gone, and many schools have still not received their new Common Core curricula or have received only partial shipments. I know teachers who have been spending lots of time at copy machines duplicating for their classes whatever materials their schools have received.

Then, there are the schools where no new curricula were ordered, or the materials the school received have turned out to be poorly aligned to the new standards or, to put it plainly, just bad. Some other schools ordered curricula, but didn’t arrange professional development for their teaching staff on the Common Core. At all these schools, teachers and students are at a clear disadvantage in shifting over to the new learning standards.

How is that fair?

For teachers, multiple measures will be key to year-end ratings under the new evaluation system, and the UFT is committed to increasing the number of options for the local measures of student learning. Our goal throughout this process has been to empower each and every teacher, and ensure their voices are heard. That is what all of our fights this year have been about.

But for both teachers and students, the stakes are extremely high.

Teachers’ evaluations will depend in part not on whether students pass the state tests, but on whether they show growth from one year to the next.

Students, meanwhile, get judged on an absolute score based on whether they make the state’s cutoff for proficiency. The result can change their lives forever. In New York City, students’ scores determine whether they are promoted to the next grade.

The fact that in New York City so much rides on state tests for all parties involved is why the botched implementation of Common Core is so damaging.

At this point, the Department of Education is blaming principals, while the state is pointing the finger at the DOE.

I really don’t care whose fault it is as long as our students and our members do not bear the consequences for the incompetence of those who were supposed to manage this transition. How about, for a change, we hold those in charge accountable?

Our students and our members should not be harmed by this mess. That is what our resolution calling for a moratorium on high-stakes consequences is all about.

As you know, the problem with high-stakes testing began with No Child Left Behind. That federal law made testing the ultimate and final judge of schools. The Bloomberg administration took this approach even further, using testing to determine everything from student promotion to admission into gifted-and-talented programs to selection for specialized high schools.

UFT members are rightly disgusted by the overemphasis on testing that has hurt children and distorted education.

We believe that the Common Core standards, if implemented properly, could give teachers something better to work with, a set of standards that we can use in the classroom to help us raise our kids’ achievement.

We have known from the start that implementing these new standards would be a challenge, particularly with this DOE.

Teachers should have received new curricula aligned to the Common Core last school year, as our union repeatedly demanded.

That didn’t happen. Then the DOE promised that schools would have new curriculum materials including new textbooks by the first day of school, and we know how that has turned out.

Why should our students get hurt because of the system’s failed implementation of the new standards?

A moratorium amounts to a pause. We need to pause on making high-stakes decisions based on state tests until the implementation of the Common Core has been fixed. They need to get this right.

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