New York Teachers Union Sues Over Common Core Criticism, Questions

The New York State United Teachers Union has sued the state Education Department over the constitutionality of a “gag order” placed on educators who administer or score Common Core exams.

The lawsuit, filed by the union on behalf of five teachers, argues that the restrictions placed deny the teachers their first amendment right to free speech, as the gag order does not allow them to discuss any concerns they have with regards to specific test questions.  Any discussions are considered a punishable offense.

The lawsuit also argues that the gag order infringes upon their 14th amendment rights allowing them equal protection under the law.

“If teachers believe test questions are unfair or inappropriate, they should be able to say so without fear of dismissal or losing their teaching license,” NYSUT President Karen Magee, the former head of the local teachers union in Harrison, said in a statement.

When the Common Core-based exams were first issued in 2013, the state Department of Education withheld some of the questions from the public after tests were administered, claiming it was a matter of cost, with silence allowing the questions to be used on future exams.

The plaintiffs are claiming that the move was unconstitutional.  Prior to administering the exams, the teachers were requested to sign agreements that stated they would “not use or discuss the content of secure test materials, including test questions and answers, in any classroom or other activities.”

While the state Department of Education has not released an official statement on the issue, spokesman Dennis Tompkins stated that the state’s testing system is “among the most transparent in the country.”

The state released 50% of the test questions from the 2014 elementary and middle school exams, double the amount of test questions released in 2013.  In addition, all Regents exam questions that were not being tested in the field were also released.

Tompkins said the state has requested more funding multiple times in an effort to allow the department to print multiple copies of the exam and release questions more promptly.  Currently, the state can only print four versions of the exam in-house in Albany.

“Obviously, items to be used on future tests must be kept secure,” Tompkins said in a statement. “We look forward to NYSUT’s vigorous support for our budget request.”

Multiple “Release the Tests” drives have been held throughout the state with parent groups submitting thousands of signatures on petitions to state officials, claiming that not releasing the questions does not allow for proper review of the exams.

The lawsuit was filed last week in federal court in Albany,

“Teachers must be free to protect their students and speak out when they have concerns about state tests,” Magee, the union president, said. “Instead, they are under a ‘gag order’ to be silent — and that is hurting children.”