Spending a precious Saturday in June on the road is a big ask, but Krista Gibbs of the Batavia Teachers Association, Danielle Cobb of the Depew Teachers Organization, Elizabeth M. Dunne, president of the Clarence TA and Marion Quinn of the Arlington TA consider the miles traveled to Albany today for the “One Voice United” rally a small price to pay to have their voices heard.
“Our budget has gone down for the last 10 years and we’ve lost 60 positions over the last two years — this year we will lose 37 positions with a minimal decline in class enrollment,” said Dunne. In the face of the kinds of cutbacks caused by funding losses, she’s sending the message that the dollars spent on testing would be better used for programs directly benefiting students.
“There’s too much testing and not enough time for teaching. Just let us teach,” said Gibbs.
Cobb agrees. She believes that overemphasis on standardized testing, “takes away from the creativity of our lessons and opportunities for student enrichment.” Pre-testing in particular is a problem, she said. At a time when teachers should be building student trust, the start of a new school year, teachers instead force them to “face failure.”
Quinn would like to see public education supported and valued. “Put students first, and not use them as test modules to determine if educators are doing their jobs,” she said. “I think our ability to nurture students has been shoved aside in favor of the tests.”
Meanwhile, Dan Campbell, a member of the South Huntington Teachers Association, is also in Albany today “because public education is under fire in this country and specifically in New York state. Enough is enough. Our children are under attack and are profession is suffering. We are living in a society that doesn’t properly value what teachers do.”
Tanya Carbone, a member of the West Islip Teachers Association, was motivated to travel by bus “for my own children. I think children are being over-tested and they’re under too much stress and it is detracting from their youth.”
Ellenville special education teacher Jennifer Marks, standing in front of the State Education Department and says the recent round of state assessments convinced her she had to come to the rally. “I had a student who started the school year on a first grade reading level and I brought him to the fourth-grade level,” she said. “But when he was forced to take the fifth-grade ELA, he absolutely shut down. He said, “I’m so stupid!,” and it broke my heart. That’s why I’m here.”
“We’re creating unnecessary stress and taking all the fun out of school,” said Ellenville school psychologist Karin Hopkins.
“I’m spending more time on testing than teaching!” said special education teacher Vianney Garcia.
Rheam Deans, a school psychologist from New Paltz in the Hudson Valle, getting off the yellow school bus with her two sons, first-grader Aiden and seventh-grader Ryan, said when her boys expressed frustration over the recent state assessments, she told them, “We have to figure out how to do something about this … We have to get on that bus. Every single person makes a difference.”
Deans says the testing obsession is hitting even the youngest students. Her son Aiden always loved school; even when he was sick, he wanted to go. But after two days of assessments, and being told to write a six-page storybook without any help from his teacher, he came home crying. “He cried at dinner and the next morning, he said he didn’t want to go to school anymore,” Deans said. “That’s when I knew we had to get on this bus.”
lma Sprague, a teaching assistant and member of the Guilderland Teachers Association, sees the impact of decreased budgets and increased testing in classrooms every day. She’s here at the “One Voice United” rally “because we need lawmakers to change their minds about testing, funding and on the tax cap.”
Art Plichta, president of the Newburgh TA, and Jeanne Daley, the local’s vice president, are waiting for three buses of their colleagues to arrive at the rally.
“Funding public education is a disaster. Districts can’t even plan for the future,” Plichta said.
Daley, a school nurse, says she sees “kids coming in on testing days with anxiety-related illness: stomach aches, head aches, and crying.”
Mike Mitchell teaches Spanish at Bethlehem High School in Albany County. He’s at the rally because “my students have greater skills than bubbling in answers on a multiple choice standardized tests.” Bethlehem Central TA has more than 100 members are at the rally “because we ran out of T-shirts” Mitchell said. Their orange shirts had the “If tests scores are the answer, we are asking the wrong question” on the back and their union logo on the front.
– Matt Smith, Betsy Sandberg and Sylvia Saunders contributed to this post