TESTING RESOLUTION A FIRST STEP BUT CHANGE MUST BEGIN HERE AT HOME
August 27, 2013 -- The North Shore School Board was right to take up a resolution at its July 1st meeting calling on State officials to reform New York’s “top-down,” “one-size fits all” high stakes standardized testing approach to education. And from the discussion at the meeting, it seems that all the Trustees and the Superintendent are on board. This resolution, together with the recent formation of the North Shore Parents Action Committee (NSPAC), and actions taken across the state by other parent groups, school districts, and teachers, will hopefully force a change in the state’s testing policies and the new teacher rating system that ties evaluations to student performance on state assessments.
Unfortunately Albany moves slowly, and these actions will not provide immediate relief from the high stakes testing culture that has developed in this district and others. Yes –the tests and APPR are bad. Neither accurately or fairly evaluates students or teachers – especially when students are being prepped for the test. What is more harmful than the testing itself, however, is how districts have responded to it. No state law or regulation mandates that a district spend nearly $100,000 on Common Core and test prep materials; no state law or regulation requires a district to replace meaningful instruction with a seven hour standardized test dress rehearsal; or to assign test prep questions for homework for weeks or months on end; or to engage in hours of test prep in the classroom; or to use state tests for placement in programs; or to drastically reduce the amount of social studies and science instruction in the regular course of study.
Resisting the temptation to forgo meaningful instruction in favor of test preparation is difficult. Under the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR), 20% of a teacher’s evaluation is based on how well students do on the state tests; and regardless of how well a teacher does on the
80% of the rating that is based on district measures, if the state determines he or she is “ineffective” on the state assessment portion, the teacher automatically receives an ineffective rating overall.
Two consecutive years of ineffective ratings, and the District can then pursue 3020A (termination) proceedings against a teacher. But this a choice that is offered to districts – not a mandate, and Dr. Melnick has stated that he would not support the termination of a teacher who has received high marks from the district.
And yes, there is also political pressure on districts as they must demonstrate to the community that they’re doing a good job. Unfortunately, in our busy lives we all too often want complex issues simplified and reduced to a single number, and that is exactly what the state has done with its assessment system for both students and teachers. And districts across the state have bought into this oversimplification as they use bar graph after bar graph to show that they are keeping up with or passing neighboring districts in the percentages of students getting 3’s and 4’s. Districts must have the courage to overcome this pressure and educate the community in how quality education ought to be evaluated.
There now appears to be consensus in many districts that the state tests cause more harm than good, and much of this harm results from how school districts have reacted to them rather than from the tests themselves. While we should no doubt push the state to change its policies with
grassroots and District efforts, let us also focus on what we actually have direct control over – what takes place within our classrooms and our schools. Let’s take meaningful, substantive steps to minimize the impact of the tests on our students. End the dress rehearsals; end the purchase of test prep materials and use those funds for another purpose; cut down on the in-class and out-of-class test prep; include more social studies and science in the elementary school curriculum; and assure parents that the state test scores are not used for placement in any course or level of study. That would be meaningful reform that could be in place on September 3rd.