Good Morning
Good Morning

Teachers union is wrong about tests

Teachers and parents gather to discuss state testing,

Teachers and parents gather to discuss state testing, use of test scores in teacher evaluations and the possibilities of students opting out, at a community education forum at the Port Jefferson Village Center in Port Jefferson on Saturday, March 7, 2015. Credit: Heather Walsh

Most teachers care very much about children and their educations. But the labor leaders and educators waging a campaign to thwart the standardized tests for third- through eighth-graders that begin Tuesday are not doing so for the students.

These English and math tests tell parents and teachers how kids are doing. And they tell principals and parents how teachers are doing, which is the last thing teachers unions want as they double down on their fight to stop these tests as a measure in their evaluations.

Robocalls have gone out to teachers union members, ads are running on the radio and the New York State United Teachers union is circulating a question-and-answer sheet for parents on opting out. Looking at their case, we found many false arguments.

Are the third- through eighth-grade tests reliable?

Well, for many years, teachers unions never made a big fuss in arguing they weren't reliable. Now the anti-testing alliance argues that standardized tests are an unreliable measure of student learning. In previous years when these standardized tests did not count toward a teacher's evaluation, NYSUT never pushed parents to take the extreme action of avoiding the assessments.

Will my district lose some money as a result?

Potentially. The anti-testers argue that districts won't lose state aid if large numbers of students opt out of the tests. But districts may be penalized and can lose federal funding if less than 95 percent of students take the tests. State funding, however, is not at risk.

Do these two tests stress out the kids?

It's more likely that NYSUT is making parents stress out the kids by saying, "Tying high-stakes consequences to these tests puts extreme pressure on students to perform and on teachers to 'teach to the test.' " For students, there are no high stakes. The results of these standardized tests -- by law -- cannot affect grades or be used in promotion or placement decisions for students. Kids know this.

Can these tests adequately measure teaching skills?

These tests are not perfect. The development of better tests to measure the growth of a student's skills should be accelerated. But even these imperfect tests tell us far more about how teachers are doing than the less objective measures that make up 80 percent of the current evaluation system. As a result, almost every teacher aces the evaluation process. That's why Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo pushed so hard for a system in which teachers who aren't rated "effective" in the data-based part of the evaluation can't be rated effective overall.

What should a parent do?

Children worry about algebra pop quizzes and history finals. Educators worry about standardized tests. And now, purely out of self-interest, educators are trying to worry parents into holding kids out of these needed exams. That won't help students, who will miss out on a chance to measure their skills. It won't help schools, which may lose federal funding. And it won't help top teachers, who deserve to have their accomplishments measured and rewarded. The state budget even includes $20,000 bonuses in 2016 for the best ones.

The only winners when students opt out are the worst educators. And that means we all lose.