Rochester Teachers Association President Adam Urbanski rarely admonishes Superintendent Bolgen Vargas publicly. Vargas and Urbanski usually have each other’s back on most issues.
But the RTA filed a class action grievance against the city school district last week, and in a phone interview yesterday, Urbanski was not so supportive of Vargas. The grievance concerns ELA and math tests that teachers have been administering this month, particularly in grades K to 2. Urbanski says the district has broken its agreement with the union regarding how the tests are administered.
Urbanski, who has been an outspoken critic of what he calls the state’s testing mania, says the tests have to be given to students individually because they are performance-based assessments.
“This is a woeful waste of time,” says Urbanski. And classroom management has been made more difficult, he says. Teachers in the lower grades don’t even have a proctor assisting them.
Also, Urbanski says the tests were riddled with errors, and administering them has taken more time than teachers are paid to work.
Urbanski says that the problems were brought to Vargas’s attention with some recommended solutions.
“I surmise that Bolgen admits that the district messed up,” says Urbanski. But Urbanski says that Vargas’s administrators are blaming teachers for the problems with the testing.
School officials seemed caught off guard by the grievance. "Our students in kindergarten, first and second grade are taking new performance-based assessments this month," district spokesperson Chip Partner said in a written statement. "The new tests were negotiated with the Rochester Teachers Association as part of an agreement to eliminate thousands of pre-and-post assessments taken previously by students at all levels to support the [teacher] performance review process."
The tension comes at a time when the University of Rochester is developing a plan to turn around East High School. Solid support from the unions has been widely viewed as critically important to the success of any plan that the UR tries to implement.
The grievance will now go before an arbitrator, and the arbitrator’s decision will stand, says an RTA official.