Dear Governor Christie, Governor Cuomo, and Mayor Bloomberg,
I write to applaud your rapid response to Hurricane Sandy. You have been decisive in your decision making and tireless in your efforts to care for all those who have suffered because of the brute force of the storm. Many of the decisions you have made have been courageous, some unexpectedly so. I urge you now to make one more decision for the sake of the children who whose lives have been so tragically impacted by Sandy.
It is imperative that executive decisions are made so that displaced students are not required to take benchmarking assessments in their new, “temporary” schools. Of equal importance is the suspension of all testing of children whose lives have been deeply affected by the storm. The focus on all new evaluative procedures should be postponed. The push to fully implement APPR, SLOs, DASA, HEDI, summative evaluations, benchmarks, and baseline rubrics, should also be suspended.
An immediate necessity is the push back of the end of the marking quarter. “For my district and I imagine most others, missing this past week means projects, essays, and tests upon return to round out the quarter average that is already stunted by the APPR benchmarking assessments,” a teacher states. “We are scheduled to close our gradebooks Friday and report grades by Tuesday the November 13.”
Such pressures in times of catastrophe increase the possibility that children will experience lasting effects on their health and well being as well as their academic development. In the immediate aftermath of a catastrophic event or in an on-going emergency, school administrators and teachers need all testing to be suspended so that they can work together to: (1) support the social and emotional well-being of children; and (2) create classrooms that encourage resiliency. It is of vital importance that all pedagogical initiatives ensure that every child has the opportunity to engage in activities that support their learning in healthful and productive ways.
Two research findings provide a framework for schools to establish safe learning environments for K-12 students in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Both findings are supported by ethnographic research in locations where catastrophic events have taken place and/or emergency situations exist; and by medical, psychiatric and psychological research on children and mass trauma. The first finding is that it is important that we do everything we can to restore the social fabric of children’s everyday lives if they are to have the best chance possible to recover when catastrophic events take place. The second finding is that children need to experience joy if they are going to have the best chance possible to recover from potentially traumatic experiences.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy these two findings support the focus on schools as social environments that can enhance the health and well being of students as well as their academic development.. The research based recommendations are presented in depth in “Recommendations for Administrators and Teachers Reopening Schools in the Aftermath of the Storm”. Summarized here, they are deceptively simple:
- Establish schools as safe, joyful places for children and teachers;
- Ensure that schools are nurturing environments in which children who have been evacuated can become welcome members of the school community;
- Promote children’s health and well being by providing them with increased opportunities to participate in art, music, drama, dance, and physical education;
- Enhance academic learning through meaningful literacy activities, listening to and reading stories, participating in constructivist math and science projects, and other meaning making activities;
- Encourage family and community participation in the daily life of the school;
- Make sure that the school takes part in community events and activities.
These recommendations are not earth shattering suggestions, but to implement them will take a suspension of stressful mandated requirements. There is no doubt that the current intense focus on testing and value added assessment increases the pressures on children and teachers who have experienced a potentially traumatizing disaster such as Hurricane Sandy. Thus suspending these testing policies and mandates becomes critically important if teachers are to focus on creating environments in schools which will contribute to the restoration of the social fabric of children’s everyday lives. In such circumstances creative, imaginative and joyful learning experiences that are responsive to the social, emotional and intellectual needs of children, and which support their learning in healthful and productive ways are absolutely essential.
Professor of Literacy Studies
Founding Director of the International Center for Everybody’s Child