BUFFALO - Standardized tests students will take next month should be used to gauge New York's progress in rolling out rigorous new national learning standards, but not as a measure of teacher effectiveness or against students, the state's largest teachers union says in a new ad campaign launching this week.
Newspaper and online ads aimed at parents and communities say the state has rushed to align annual assessments with the challenging Common Core State Standards without first ensuring that all teachers had the materials and tools to teach them.
With scores expected to plummet, New York State United Teachers wants parents to tell the state not to use them in teacher evaluations this year or to hold back students.
"No experienced teacher would test students on material before it's taught - and yet that's the scenario the state has created," the union's ads read.
The state uses the annual English language arts and math tests for grades third through eighth to assess students, schools and districts. This year, the tests are also to figure in to state-required performance evaluations that will rate teachers and principals as either highly effective, effective, developing or ineffective.
The new curriculum, meant to better prepare students for college and jobs, includes more complex reading problems that require students to analyze informational texts and write evidence-based responses. The math challenges students not only to solve real-world problems but to first decide which formulas and tools to use.
A March memo from Ken Slentz, a deputy education commissioner, advised superintendents to take into account that student progress was being measured against more rigorous standards when making employment decisions. He said teachers would have a fair chance to do well, however, because they will be compared based on similar measures.
But NYSUT President Richard Iannuzzi said teachers and their students have not been equally prepared for the tests, with some districts moving more enthusiastically than others toward implementation of the new standards. In a survey of 1,600 teachers earlier this year, 65 percent said their students lacked access to textbooks and materials aligned to the standards, he said.
"To count this testing for any kind of high stakes, it defies logic and is unethical," Iannuzzi told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
He said teachers have been writing letters by the thousands to state education leaders for the past month spelling out the test-related stresses in their classrooms.
The $250,000 ad campaign was launched to bolster the effort with the hope of action by the Education Department, Gov. Andrew Cuomo or the Legislature, he said.
"I felt we had an obligation to share the reality with parents," Iannuzzi said.
In a news release, Education Commissioner John King acknowledged the calls to delay aligning assessments to the higher standards. "Any major change initiative comes with anxiety and challenges," King said.
But he said students did not have time to wait to be held accountable for standards designed to improve their futures.
"Only about 35 percent of our students graduate with the skills and knowledge necessary to be called college- and career ready," he said. "That's why the (Board of) Regents moved forward so decisively ... They understand that going slow means denying thousands of students the opportunity to be successful."
In Kentucky, the first state to align tests with the new learning standards, reading and math scores dropped by roughly a third or more the first year. The Common Core standards have been adopted by 46 states.