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Unions: Drop test gag order

New York Teacher

The UFT, NYSUT and AFT together spearheaded a major push on April 25 to allow educators to discuss the content of the Pearson-created state ELA tests administered in early April, after they were barred from revealing the questions.

Timed to coincide with Pearson’s annual shareholders meeting in London, the three unions reached out to their memberships to sign an online petition to Pearson’s board of directors that called for the removal of contractual “gag orders” that prevent educators from talking about the tests. Nearly 18,000 people signed the petition.

The email shared a link to AFT President Randi Weingarten’s letter to Pearson chief executive John Fallon. “These gag orders and the lack of transparency are fueling the growing distrust and backlash among parents, students and educators in the United States about whether the current testing protocols and testing fixation are in the best interests of children,” she wrote the CEO.

After her letter went out, a spokesman for Pearson suggested that the company was only doing the bidding of the New York State Education Department.

Weingarten countered that the contract is between the two parties. “There’s a contract provision that says all materials are to be held strictly confidential and must not be copied, duplicated or disseminated by any manner, or discussed with anyone unless authorized by New York State Education Department,” she said. “That’s a gag order.”

Teachers contended that the state ELA tests, created by Pearson, did not align well with the Common Core Learning Standards, used passages that were far above students’ levels and included questions that were confusing even for adults. In widespread demonstrations after the tests and in online forums, teachers said they were incensed by the tests and frustrated at not being able to talk about them in detail.

“We talk about being transparent with our students,” said Lorraine Cogliando, a teacher at PS 503 in Brooklyn, as she marched with parents and teachers around the school’s yard on April 11. “We see no reason they shouldn’t be transparent with us, if in fact everybody’s goal is to improve instruction.”

Chapter Leader Alex Messer, at PS 321 in Brooklyn, where the principal published an op-ed in The New York Times on April 9 condemning the lack of test transparency, made a similar point on the Chalkbeat discussion board a few days later.

“So many of the teachers I’ve talked to really wish these tests were out in the open,” Messer wrote. “I think people would be very interested to see what exactly was being tested these past three days ... and how exactly it was being tested. Our dialogue could be so much more productive right now.”