Park Slope Parents and Teachers Protesting ‘Terrible Test’

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The New York State English Language Arts Exam, a highly controversial standardized test notorious for its difficulty, has adults in Brooklyn taking to the streets. In an email today from Elizabeth Phillips, the principal of P.S. 321 in gentrified Park Slope, families were told that while their kids were "wonderful and worked incredibly hard" throughout three days of testing, "the teachers and administration are truly devastated by what a terrible test it was and how little it will tell us about our students."

"There was inappropriate content, many highly ambiguous questions, and a focus on structure rather than meaning of passages," wrote Phillips. "Our teachers and administrators feel that this test is an insult to the profession of teaching and that students’ scores on it will not correlate with their reading ability." To make themselves known, a protest has been planned for tomorrow morning, ahead of Family Friday.

"I have never felt more devalued and outraged about a statewide test," a Brooklyn teacher told parents in a separate recruiting email. "I really need you to help make a vocal stand against these high stakes tests."

Robert Kolker wrote about the exams in New York last year, calling them "a sort of SAT — a do-or-die score that many of the selective, ­application-only middle schools use to screen kids." (One particularly trippy 2012 middle-school reading prompt about a pineapple and a hare drew special scorn and mockery.)

"The teachers have been shocked and outraged over the passages and the questions," Alex Messer, a fourth grade teacher at P.S. 321 told Daily Intelligencer this afternoon. "We don't want the kids to panic, but it's important for the parents to know." Despite the last-minute nature of the protest, he said, the school has already been in touch with teachers from P.S. 29 in Cobble Hill and M.S. 51 in Park Slope about organizing similar actions.

As for what exactly is so objectionable this time around, school employees are barred from sharing specifics about the tests, rules teachers said "feels like one of the biggest injustices of all."

Here's the full note from the principal, emphasis hers:

PS 321 PARENTS--Our 3rd, 4th, and 5th  graders have just completed three days  of the New York State English  Language Arts Exam. Your  children were wonderful and worked incredibly hard.  On the whole, we think that we were able to protect them from the worst stresses of the test,  and most seemed fine during most of the exam. However, the teachers and administration are truly devastated by what a terrible test it was and how little it will tell us about our students. Because we are bound by test security, we cannot reveal details but we can tell you that we have never seen an ELA exam that does a worse job of testing reading comprehension. There was inappropriate content, many highly ambiguous questions, and a focus on structure rather than meaning of passages. Our teachers and administrators feel that this test is an insult to the profession of teaching and that students’ scores on it will not correlate with their reading ability. Because of this, the staff has decided to hold a protest outside of school TOMORROW, FRIDAY, APRIL 4, FROM 8:15-8:35 to express their extreme dissatisfaction with the ELA exam.  Parents are invited to join the staff before going into classrooms for Family Friday.