a changing climate

Earth Day Shouldn’t be Math Test Day, NYC Students Say

Youth activists demonstrate in Manhattan during the People's Climate March in 2014.
Youth activists demonstrate in Manhattan during the People’s Climate March in 2014. Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

This story was originally published by Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization covering public education. Sign up for their newsletters here: ckbe.at/newsletters

Advocacy organizations and more than two dozen lawmakers are asking the state education department to reschedule standardized math tests to allow students to participate in rallies for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

The letter, sent Feb. 13, also asks state officials to encourage districts to allow “teach-ins” about climate change on Earth Day, which is Wednesday, April 22.

The state mandates that paper-based math tests be administered over the course of two days between April 21-23, while computer-based tests must be taken between April 20-27 (Just 25 city schools gave state tests on computers last year.)

Student protests and walkouts are common lately, with many focusing on fighting racism and segregation at city schools. Last March and again in September, many students across the city walked out of class to raise awareness about climate change in solidarity with peers around the world.

’Anathema to Education’

Scheduling the tests on Earth Day is “disrespectful” to students, said Maya Vatury, an eighth-grader at Brooklyn’s Math and Science Exploratory School in Brooklyn, in a press release about the letter.

The letter to state officials said it would be an “anathema to the purpose of education” to require students to spend Earth Day taking tests, rendering them unable to participate in climate strikes. Among the New York City-area lawmakers who signed the letter were vocal testing critics Councilman Mark Treyger and Manhattan Democratic Sen. Robert Jackson.

The state education department is reviewing the letter and noted that Earth Day is “an important day of recognition and a valuable teaching tool for New York schools,” an official said.

The official noted that schools are not required to administer the exam on April 22 — which falls in the middle of the acceptable time range — and can choose any two of the three days between April 21-23. Testing schedules are set and shared more than a year in advance and are devised with the input of district leaders, the official said.

But Liat Olenick, a science teacher at Brooklyn Arbor elementary school, said she’s “never heard” of schools administering the exam on days that aren’t back-to-back.

A Calendar Check

The effort to reschedule the test started when Olenick, one of the founders of Indivisible Nation BK — a group that advocates for civic participation and has recently focused heavily on climate change — was brainstorming with another group called Teachers For The Future about climate-focused lessons and activities for Earth Day.

During their meeting, Olenick grabbed a calendar to see when Earth Day was.

“Then we realized the math test was scheduled on Earth Day, and that would mean hundreds of thousands of kids and their teachers wouldn’t be able to participate in the day,” Olenick said. “I reached out to Robert Jackson’s office after that.”

In the press release, Jackson said allowing children to strike that day would be a lesson in civic participation. After participating in a climate strike with students last September, Jackson said he “cannot imagine asking them to sit for a days-long standardized test on such an important day as Earth Day 50. That’s why I gathered my colleagues to join the call to Interim Commissioner [Shannon] Tahoe to move the test date.”

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