Jaisal Noor, TRNN Producer: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.
Parents at a New York City elementary school have taken the unprecedented move to boycott a new exam that would force students as young as four to take a multiple-choice test used to evaluate their teachers. Now 88 out of 97 parents of the kindergarten first- and second-grade students at Castle Bridge School have opted out their children from taking this test. After they notified principal Julie Zuckerman, she called off the test because with so many parents boycotting, the results would be meaningless. The Real News reached principal Zuckerman, who says she supports the parents.
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Julie Zuckerman, Principle, Castle Bridge Elementary School: You know, I’m horrified that anyone would consider testing K through 2 kids. That’s been off-limits for all these years. My colleagues and I have been adamant all along with the increase in testing that if it ever treaded into the K-2 arena, that that would be a step too far.
Noor: The passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002 ushered in an era of standardized testing and test prep in schools across the country as students and schools became accountable to high-stakes tests. And President Obama’s Race to the Top and Common Core education initiatives have increased funding for schools that expand testing and link student test scores to teacher evaluations. However, over the past several years, opposition to such high-stakes standardized tests has grown to unprecedented levels.
Well, now joining us to discuss this latest test boycott at Castle Bridge School are the school’s PTA cochairs. Elexis Loubriel-Pujols is the parent of Andres and DeiJa Pujols, and Dao Tran is the parent of Guinn Lamphere.
Thank you both for joining us.
Dao Tran, Co-Chairwoman, Castle Bridge PTA: Thank you for having us.
Noor: So I want to start with you, Elexis. Talk about why you and the other parents at your school, the vast majority felt it was so important to get together and organize this boycott. Your children haven’t even taken these tests yet.
Loubriel-Pujols: Correct. Our kids have not taken the test. We found out about the test and were immediately outraged that our kids would possibly be subjected to standardized tests. We thought there’s no reason to have the kids fill out bubbles and have the stress of standardized tests when teachers can be evaluated using other measures. We prefer our kids to be playing in class, learning hands-on instead of worrying about taking tests.
Noor: Now, the children, just to emphasize, the children who would be taking these tests would be as young as four years old. Why is that a problem?
Tran: I think it’s developmentally not even just unhelpful but actually destructive. If you think about a child at that young age, many have issues with sitting still for so long. Many have not learned to read. And I think the test actually acknowledges that, because it has in place underneath the numbers for each question a little image that kids were supposed to look at when the teacher’s reading aloud the question to know which question she’s referring to. There’s all kinds of abstract thinking that would have to take place in order to take the exam.
And the other really awful aspect was that this test is given in English only. And our school is a bilingual, dual-language school. Many of the children who enter Castle Bridge actually don’t speak Spanish at home and are just learning to speak English.
Noor: Now, for about four years I worked in New York City at a museum, and I would go to schools across the city and teach history. And just about every teacher I worked with over the course of four years would tell me, you know, sorry my students are so far behind on the history part of our curriculum, because we’ve been focusing on getting ready for these math and English standardized tests, which our school and students and our teachers themselves would be evaluated on. So I know this has been a longtime problem that parents and teachers have spoken out against. So can you talk about what your children will be able to do instead of preparing for these tests and taking these tests?
Loubriel-Pujols: Well, our kids would be in class doing hands-on projects, learning about chicks, building with blocks, playing with sand, learning social skills, getting to just be creative individuals instead of focusing on learning how to take a test and filling in bubbles, which isn’t really something that they need to be focusing on right now.
Noor: And finally, we reached Principal Zuckerman. And I wanted to play another comment she made about the significance of this boycott.
Zuckerman: You know, I think the significant lesson is that the parents are the ones who are in the control and need to take the lead. And the schools are a public servant. You know, we’re public servants, and the schools are here for the parents and for the children. We’re here to meet their needs. And when parents take that attitude seriously, they have a lot of power and they can speak truth to power. And there really isn’t any—you know, there aren’t repercussions to be brought on schools for parent involvement and parent engagement.
Noor: So, Dao, I wanted to get your response to what Principal Zuckerman said. The two big points she brought up was the fact that parents need to take leadership of their schools, and also that because the parents took this leadership, the school will not be held accountable, the school will not be punished, the teachers will not be punished for this boycott.
Tran: I absolutely agree with her. I mean, I think we observe that the school, we observe our children in the classroom on a daily basis, and we know and trust that the teachers have the best assessment of them. They actually write these narratives about our kids at report card time. So they don’t get checkboxes. They don’t get grades. We get a story of what they know and where they are at developmentally, which is much more rich and clear than any test could ever be.
And I think for us as parents, once we got our campaign going and started talking to parents about what was happening—first of all, no one actually knew this test was coming. The district did not send home letters, did not even tell us that they were planning to give this test to our children. And then on top of that, we felt like at a certain point there’s a tipping point. It’s not just individual parents saying, I don’t want my child to take this, but understanding that it was going to affect the whole school, if the tests would be given, that there would have to be time, you know, devoted to test prep and there would be a culture that would start creeping into the school that would place such a high value on these tests, which, you know, goes against, basically, the values and principles of our school.
Noor: Thank you so much for joining us. And we’ll keep following this story.
Tran: Thank you.
Loubriel-Pujols: Thank you.
Noor: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.