NYC Principals Call for “Dialogue” to Revise “Common Core” Tests, but Blast Test-Developer Pearson

This is a follow-up to last week’s posts about two letters written by New York City principals critiquing the “Common Core” tests administered to kids in grades 3 to 8, in April, and calling on colleagues to opt out of using the new assessments as part of their admissions criteria.

The revised letter to John B. King, New York State Commissioner of Education, calls for a “constructive dialogue…to help ensure that moving forward our New York State Exams are true and fair assessments of the Common Core Standards.” While the new draft strikes a more conciliatory tone, the principals have sharpened their criticism of Pearson, the company that designed the tests, questioning “the efficacy of Pearson in this work.”

The new draft, , which is to be sent this week, includes the signatures of 47 principals. Here is the text of the new draft:

May 2013

Dear New York State Education Commissioner John King,

We New York City and Metropolitan Area Principals hold ourselves accountable to ensuring that all of our students make consistent and meaningful academic progress. Although we are skeptical of the ability of high stakes tests alone to accurately capture students’ growth, we understand a system’s need for efficiently establishing and measuring milestones of learning.

We have been encouraged by the new National Common Core Standards’ call for more rigorous work that encourages critical thinking, and many of us have been engaged in meaningful curriculum revisions as a result. We were hopeful that this year’s state exams would better represent the college preparatory-type performance tasks that Common Core exemplifies. Unfortunately, we feel that not only did this year’s New York State Exams take an extreme toll on our teachers, families and most importantly, our students, they also fell short of the aspirations of these Standards.

For these reasons, we would like to engage in a constructive dialogue with you and your team to help ensure that moving forward our New York State Exams are true and fair assessments of the Common Core Standards.  As it stands, we are concerned about the limiting and unbalanced structure of the test, the timing and length of the daily test sessions, and the efficacy of Pearson in this work.

In both their technical and task design, these tests do not fully align with the Common Core.  The ELA test was narrowly focused, requiring students to analyze specific lines, words and structures of mostly informational text and their significance. In contrast, the Common Core emphasizes reading across different texts, both fiction and non-fiction, in order to determine and differentiate between central themes—an authentic college practice.  Answering granular questions about unrelated topics is not. Because schools have not had a lot of time to unpack Common Core, we fear that too many educators will use these high stakes tests to guide their curricula, rather than the more meaningful Common Core Standards themselves.  And because the tests are missing Common Core’s essential values, we fear that students will experience curriculum that misses the point as well.

Even if these tests were assessing students’ performance on tasks aligned with the Common Core Standards, the testing sessions—two weeks of three consecutive days of 90-minute (and longer for some) periods—were unnecessarily long, requiring more stamina for a 10-year-old special education student than of a high school student taking an SAT exam. Yet, for some sections of the exams, the time was insufficient for the length of the test.  When groups of parents, teachers and principals recently shared students’ experiences in their schools, especially during the ELA exams with misjudged timing expectations, we learned that frustration, despondency, and even crying were common reactions among students.  The extremes were unprecedented:  vomiting, nosebleeds, suicidal ideation, and even hospitalization.

There were more multiple-choice questions than ever before, a significant number of which, we understand, were embedded field-test questions that do not factor into a child’s score but do take time to answer and thus prevent students from spending adequate time on the more authentic sections like the writing assessment.   Further, the directions for at least one of the English Language Arts sessions were confusing and tended to misdirect students’ energies from the more authentic writing sections.

Finally, we are concerned about putting the fate of so many in the education community in the hands of Pearson – a company with a history of mistakes, most recently with the mis-scoring of the NYC test for the gifted and talented program. (Thirteen percent of those 4 to 7 year olds who sat for the exam were affected by the errors; Pearson has a 3-year DOE contract for this test alone, worth $5.5 million.)  There are many other examples of Pearson’s questionable reliability in the area of test design:  In Spring 2012 only 27% of 4th grade students passed a new Florida writing test.  Parents complained, the test was reevaluated, and the passing score was changed so that the percentage of students who passed climbed to 81%.  The Spring 2012 NYS ELA 8th grade test had to be reevaluated after complaints about meaningless reading passages about talking pineapples and misleading questions. (See Alan Singer, Huffington Post, 4/24/13; John Tierney, The Atlantic, 4/25/13.)  Parents and taxpayers have anecdotal information, but are unable to debate the efficacy of these exams when they are held highly secured and not released for more general analysis.

These exams determine student promotion.  They determine which schools individual students can apply to for middle and high school.  They are a basis on which the state and city will publicly and privately evaluate teachers.  The exams determine whether a school might fall under closer scrutiny after a poor grade on the test-linked state and city progress reports or even risk being shut down.  These realities give us an even greater sense of urgency to make sure the tests reflect our highest aspirations for student learning.

So, we respectfully request a conversation about the direction of New York’s Common Core State Exams.  As the state is in its early phases of Common Core assessment, we have a wonderful opportunity to align our efforts towards learning that best prepares our children for their future lives.  We believe we can do better – and we are committed to helping New York realize the full promises of Common Core.


Ellen Foote

Principal of Hudson River Middle School, I.S. 289

Mark Federman

Principal of East Side Community High School, H.S. 450

Stacy Goldstein

Principal of School of the Future, M413

David Getz

Principal of East Side Middle School, M114

Laura Mitchell

Principal of Young Womens’ Leadership School of Astoria, Q286

Rhonda Perry

Principal of The Salk School of Science, M.S. 255

Kelly McGuire

Principal of Lower Manhattan Community Middle School, M896

Jeanne Rotunda

Principal of West Side Collaborative Middle School, P.S. 250

Ramon Gonzalez

Principal of The Laboratory School of Science and Technology, M.S. 223

Paula Lettiere

Principal of Fort Greene Preparatory Academy, M691

Amy Andino

Principal of The Academy of Public Relations, X298

Maria Stile

Principal of Heathcote Elementary School, Scarsdale Public Schools

Rex Bobbish

Principal of The Cinema School, X478

Elaine Schwartz

Principal of Center School, M.S. 243

Liz Phillips

Principal of William Penn Elementary, P.S. 321

Chrystina Russell

Principal of Global Technology Prep, M406

Giselle McGee

Principal of The Carroll, P.S. 58

Elizabeth Collins

Principal of University Neighborhood High School, H.S. 448

Jennifer Rehn

Principal of Wagner Middle School, M.S. 167

Anna Allanbrook

Principal of Brooklyn New School, P.S. 146

Henry Zymeck

Principal of The Computer School, M.S. 245

Julia Zuckerman

Principal I.A. of Castle Bridge School, P.S. 513

Alison Hazut

Principal of Earth School, P.S. 364

George Morgan

Principal of Technology, Arts and Sciences School, M301

Alicia Perez-Katz

Principal of Baruch College Campus High School, M411

Sandra Pensak

Principal in Hewlitt-Woodmere Public Schools

Peter Carp

Principal of Institute for Collaborative Education, M407

Sharon Fiden

Principal of Doris Cohen Elementary, P.S.230

Alyce Barr

Principal of Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies, K448

Christina Fuentes

Principal of Spuyten Duyvil School, P.S. 24

Naomi Smith

Principal of Central Park East II, M964

Rebecca Fagin,

Principal of John M Harrigan, P.S. 29

Bernadette Fitzgerald,

Principal of The School of Discovery, P.S. 503

Alex White,

Principal of Gotham Professional Arts Academy, K594

Maria Nunziata,

Principal of Hernando DeSoto School, P.S. 130

Lindley Uehling,

Principal of Central Park East I, M497

Christine Olson,

I.A. Principal of James Baldwin School, M313

Robyn J. Lane

Principal of Quaker Ridge School, Scarsdale

Robert Bender

Principal of The WIlliam T. Harris Schhool

Lauren Fontana

Principal of The Lillie Devereaux Blake School

Erica Zigelman

Principal of MS 322

Sharon Fougner

Principal of Em Baker School, Great Neck Public Schools

Kelly Newman

Assistant Superintendent, Great Neck Public Schools

Ron Gimondo

Principal of John F. Kennedy School, Great Neck Public Schools

Lydia Bellino

Assistant Superintendent, Cold Spring Harbor Public Schools

Eric Nezowitz

Principal of Saddle Rock Elementary, Great Neck Public Schools

Arthur Brown

Principal of The Museum School, P.S. 33

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