THE MANY MYTHS OF THE VALUE OF STATE TESTING
By Noah Blumenthal
As our district prepares to discuss school testing, I’d like to share a few questions. Let me preface this by saying I am a proponent of district wide opt out. Only by not allowing any student to take the test can we stop teachers and administrators from worrying that their evaluations will hinge on test performance. With that in mind, here are my questions (and my answers):
How many days of education do we lose to this test?
The district spends 6 days taking ELA and Math tests in grades 3-8. Teachers miss an additional 4-5 days grading the tests. And classes spend countless time on practice tests and preparation, both in class and for homework.
We just cut our arts and music program in the name of this curriculum. How much science and social studies have we cut? How many enriching field trips and group projects have been cut? How much quality education do we have to lose in the name of this test?
What is better at measuring student learning and achievement - the state test or our teachers?
One argument in favor of testing is that it helps us see how our kids are doing. This is false. The state test helps us see how well our kids are prepared for a very limited test. Except in cases where you have a truly horrible teacher, I have yet to find anyone who believes that teachers who spend an entire year with our kids are less able to evaluate students than the
On the flip side, the district brought in no fewer than 2 speakers in 2013 to explain how state testing reduces critical thinking and love of learning, how countries that emphasize standardized testing raise kids who are less effective as adults in business, entrepreneurism, and creative output, and how testing has arguably dangerous effects on kids’ stress levels and
If the district is bringing in these people and believes in this, why do we continue on a path of preparing for these tests?
What is better at measuring teacher skills and capabilities - the state test or our administrators?
Some say the tests help us know if a teacher is any good. No it
doesn’t. The test tells you how well a teacher teaches to the test. The only way we can believe we need the test for this purpose is if we also believe that all of our principals and department heads are incompetent. They are not.
We have amazing people working for this district. They are talented and dedicated. These administrators know which teachers are stars, and they know which ones are not. And yes we have a few who are not, though thankfully not many. The state test doesn’t help us in this. And it does nothing to help
develop poor performers nor get them out the door.
What is better at measuring school quality and achievement - the state test or our superintendent and board of
Five years ago North Shore test results were below our self proclaimed comparison districts: Jericho, Syosset, Roslyn, etc. The parents voiced concern and even outrage. Something had to be done.
For the past five years our district has taught to the test. Our test
scores are now at the top. We proved we can beat any other district out there at any game we choose to play.
Why on Earth would we choose to play the state test game?
We have great schools. We don’t need a test to tell us that.
What is the money impact of the test?
The best I could detect from my research is that the legal
ramifications are 20% of Title 1 funding being diverted to busing and tutoring. That seems to kick in after 3 straight years of failure. And it seems to not be enforced.
On the flip side we would immediately save tens of thousands of dollars currently being spent on substitute teachers to support testing as well as covering for teachers that are out of school grading tests, not to mention the money we spend on test prep materials, sold to us by the very companies lobbying
for these tests in Albany.
What other consequences are there of opting out?
It has been said that the state can remove a board for bad test
performance. I’ve heard mixed reviews on the reality of this. Removal of a board is a power the state holds to address issues in the most horribly failing districts.
If it is possible for the state to try to turn this power on a
successful district like ours, that seems like a worthy battle for us to wage for a significantly improved education for our kids. I, for one, would be happy to join the protest should any such action be attempted.
So, what should we do?
There are many types of intelligence: verbal, math, emotional, foreign language, artistic, musical, analytical. Our schools are not assembly lines. The goal is not to stamp out identical products. Our children are unique and should be taught as such. They should be exposed to diverse learning based on their individual interests and needs. They should be allowed and encouraged to
flourish where their unique talents show themselves.
I have yet to meet any teacher or administrator, not a single one, who thinks state testing is good for kids, teachers, or schools, and I’ve spoken with many. How often do you see 100 percent agreement on anything? 100 percent!
Let’s listen to these experts who all agree. Let’s choose for our
district to opt out.
If you agree with what I have said, please attend this Thursday’s Board of
NORTH SHORE SCHOOL BOARD TO TAKE UP DISTRICT'S STATE TESTING PHILOSOPHY AT THURSDAY'S MEETING
Updated September 22 (earlier version posted on July 2) -- On Thursday, September 26, the North Shore Board of Education will meet in the High School Library at 7:30 pm to discuss the District's philosophy in relation to New York State standardized assessments. This is the third time in six years that the Board has sought to officially articulate its position on the issue. In 2007, the Board adopted a white paper which minimized the importance of the tests and emphasized a more authentic educational experience - the traditional philosophy of the District. In 2010, after a recalibration of state cut-off scores and an outcry over North Shore students' perceived decline in performance, the pendulum swung towards an official policy which placed greater emphasis on test preparation.
At the July 1, 2013 special meeting, Trustee Toni Labatte asked the full board to consider adopting a resolution stating the district’s position on the State imposed high stakes testing policies that along with the recent adoption of the Annual Professional Performance Review and the Common Core Learning Standards, have so greatly altered public education in New York State. Labatte asserted that the assessment system the state has adopted has put tremendous pressure on teachers to “teach to the test” and that she is concerned that the state’s approach neglects to promote critical thinking and the skills that are necessary to succeed in college and careers. She suggested the board adopt a resolution similar to those passed by other districts which have called on Board of Regents President Meryl Tisch, Education Commissioner John King, and Governor Andrew Cuomo to reform the current assessment system.
Superintendent of Schools, Dr. Edward Melnick, provided some historical background to the discussion. Prior to 2010, he stated, the district paid little attention to the tests but that in the fall of that year, the district’s scores appeared to decline dramatically from previous years. In reality, he said, this was a result of the recalibration of the cut-off scores for 3’s and 4’s (3=meeting state standards, 4= exceeding state standards). The students’ raw scores, however, were similar to previous years, but because the cut off score for a 3 was raised, many students who would have had a “low 3” in previous years, ended up with a 2 (approaching state standards). This, Melnick asserted, was something that had happened across the state. As a result of the decline, many parents expressed their concerns at a Board meeting in the fall of 2010 (See minutes of Sept 30, 2010, Oct 28, 2010, and Nov. 16, 2010 meetings). The Board responded with a change in district policy outlined in a “white paper” that called for more attention to be placed on preparing students for the assessments during regular daily instruction. Melnick stated that Ms. Labatte, not a trustee at the time, was a lone voice speaking out against moving too far in favor of test preparation.
Referring to comments made during public participation earlier in the meeting, a few trustees stated that the district had to do more than just make statement, and take action to reduce the emphasis on test preparation during regular instruction.
Trustee Michael Nightingale stated that real change in state policy could not come just from statements by the school board, but that there has to be a real grassroots movement and organization.
Trustee Maryanne Russo stated that with the introduction of the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) students often feel the pressure that teachers are feeling to do well on the test. In addition, she wondered whether some teachers had done a good job of preparing students for the test in the past and that tenure makes it difficult to remove teachers whose students do not perform well. She continued that she felt she needed to get a tutor for one of her children a few years ago.
Dr. Melnick stated that he believed that the district has moved too far in the direction of test preparation, and that while the district had intended to re-calibrate in favor of a “more balanced approach” this year, the introduction of the new Common Core curriculum and the expectation that test scores would plummet in all districts, there continued to be a great deal of emphasis on the tests throughout the year. He urged the Board to adopt a resolution stating the district’s position on the current assessment system, but also stated that the resolution cannot be just “empty words”.
Trustee Beyer gave background on the 2010 White Paper, and stated that its purpose was to revise a 2007 statement that strongly de-emphasized test preparation. She said the intent behind it was to promote a balanced approach between preparing students for the tests and having meaningful instruction. She continued that the Board ought to consider re-examining the 2010 policy statement.
Ultimately, the board agreed to develop a resolution regarding State assessment policies, although it is unclear when that will be voted on, and to re-examine the 2010 White Paper and consider revisions. (story by C. Elorriaga)
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