By Karen Matthews
Principals at some three dozen New York City public schools led protests Friday against this year's New York state English tests, which they said were poorly designed and confusing.
"The multiple-choice questions were so convoluted as to be meaningless," said Adele Schroeter, the principal of Public School 59 on Manhattan's East Side. "Hard but fair is OK. Hard but unfair I don't get."
Students in third through eighth grade took the English tests over three days last week and will take math tests April 30 through May 2.
Scores in both English and math plummeted across the state last year, the first year that the tests were supposed to be aligned with the Common Core curriculum standards that New York adopted in 2010.
The principals who protested Friday said their students worked hard but many struggled to understand this year's tests.
Lisa Ripperger, principal of Public School 234 in Tribeca, said the tests "continue to not be well aligned with Common Core expectations."
The anti-test protests started last week at Public School 321 in Park Slope, Brooklyn, whose principal, Elizabeth Phillips, complained in a New York Times op-ed that the questions "were focused on small details in the passages, rather than on overall comprehension, and many were ambiguous."
State Education Department spokesman Tom Dunn denied that any questions on the English tests were ambiguous.
Dunn said each question had one correct answer but students had to carefully distinguish between "the fully correct option and the plausible but incorrect options."
Phillips and the principals who protested Friday said they would love to describe the questions in detail but they are barred from doing so by a state-imposed "gag order." They said the state Education Department should release the questions so the public can judge their validity.
"This exam is property of New York City and New York state and you should demand to evaluate and scrutinize this exam!" said Robert Bender, the principal of Public School 11 in Chelsea, who led a rally of about 200 teachers, parents and students.
Dunn said some questions will be released when the scores are released this summer. The entire tests were made public before last year.
P.S. 11 parent Jenny Sheffer-Stevens noted that U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Thursday that protests over implementation of the Common Core standards were "noise and drama."
"This is New York City," Sheffer-Stevens said. "We know from noise and drama, and we are about to show him some."