Featherstone: Good reason to boycott state's spring tests

State tests in 2013 will be based on

State tests in 2013 will be based on the tougher Common Core academic standards recommended in 2010 by the nation's governors and adopted by 45 states, including New York. (Credit: iStock)

It's testing season for New York City public school children. Most parents this week are wishing their kids good luck and making sure they eat a hearty breakfast. But some families are taking another approach: refusing the tests.

This year, families in at least 33 schools in all five boroughs are opting out of the state's standardized tests in math and English, compared to just six last year. My son is only in first grade, too young for testing until third grade. But I'm grateful to the kids and parents who are refusing to participate in high-stakes tests. The school system's increased testing obsession is eroding education, and sometimes civil disobedience can bring change.

According to data presented by principals at a conference at Hofstra University on Long Island last week, in recent years, the amount of time our kids spend preparing for and taking standardized tests has increased -- taking time from the intellectual challenges of music, art, field trips, science and social studies. Teachers say that, though diabetes and obesity afflict many of our kids, schools are failing to meet the state's requirements for gym class in part to allow extra time for test prep. College professors are dismayed to be saddled with a generation of students who cannot come up with a creative idea because all they have learned to do is take tests.

Poor kids are suffering most of all. Even though the strongest predictor of test scores is a child's family income, schools lose federal funding, or face closure, if their scores are too low. Parents and teachers have complained at numerous public forums that many schools in poor neighborhoods now do little other than test prep. At a meeting of New York City parents and educators opposed to high-stakes testing, one teacher reported that a child in East New York wrote "I want to commit suicide" on a test last year.

Perhaps that's why test refusal extends beyond the predictably empowered. Boycott organizers aren't releasing the names of schools yet, but along with children in the East Village (where 45 kids were opting out at one school), children in Harlem, the Bronx, and East New York are also refusing tests this week.

I hope many more families join them -- and that policy-makers take heed.

Liza Featherstone has written about education for The Brooklyn Rail.


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