04/16/2014 11:03 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

NYC Parents, Teachers Protest State Tests that Include Inappropriate Questions, Product Placements

Parents, students, and teachers took to the streets Friday morning across New York City to protest the state tests in English Language Arts that were given last week. The tests derive from the Common Core requirements, however the focus of the protest wasn't the Common Core itself, but the truly awful content of the test. Principal Liz Phillips of PS 321 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, laid out the issue in her NYT op-ed piece:

I want to be clear: We were not protesting testing; we were not protesting the Common Core standards. We were protesting the fact that we had just witnessed children being asked to answer questions that had little bearing on their reading ability and yet had huge stakes for students, teachers, principals and schools.

(snip) In general terms, the tests were confusing, developmentally inappropriate and not well aligned with the Common Core standards. The questions were focused on small details in the passages, rather than on overall comprehension, and many were ambiguous. Children as young as 8 were asked several questions that required rereading four different paragraphs and then deciding which one of those paragraphs best connected to a fifth paragraph. There was a strong emphasis on questions addressing the structure rather than the meaning of the texts. There was also a striking lack of passages with an urban setting. And the tests were too long; none of us can figure out why we need to test for three days to determine how well a child reads and writes.

Additionally, the tests were produced by the for-profit company Pearson, which made money off the product placements from Nike and Barbie that appeared in the test materials. Unbelievable. There's much more information in this press release from NYC Public School Parents, as well as in this testimonial from a teacher over at Slate.

Friday's protests are getting widespread coverage in local media as well as attention from city and state education officials. The negative reaction to the test from principals and teachers has also been covered in the national media.

At PS 290 in Manhattan, City Councilman Ben Kallos (D) joined the protests and chanted along, earning the praise of the parents as well as Principal Sharon Hill (the photo above is of Kallos and Hill in front of PS 290). I spoke with Hill, who offered the following comment:

We are not against testing. We are not against the Common Core. What we are saying is that students cannot be fairly assessed when the test becomes an encounter with poorly written questions that are unclear and ambiguous.

Seems like Pearson and the New York State education system have a lot to answer for.