AT A CROSSROAD FOR QUALITY EDUCATION IN NEW YORK AND AT NORTH SHORE, IT'S TIME TO SHUT DOWN THE TESTING MACHINE
By Carolyn Mazzu Genovesi
It is spring, the season for renewal. However, New York State public school students are faced with antiquated notions of how to measure quality education during this test taking season. Our students this spring, will not only be faced with standardized tests based on the Common Core Curriculum, that are currently flawed in their design (as acknowledged by the NY State Education Department and the test preparation company) and developmentally inappropriate (as determined by early childhood experts across the nation) but most concerning, these students will be involved in a process that is based on the failed belief that these tests should be used as a strong measure in judging the value of public education. Unfortunately, this flawed system of using tests to measure whether public education is working, was reaffirmed by the passage of this year's state budget.
If you think that New York's education proposal, of using these tests to determine teacher ratings, has anything to do with measuring an individual child’s improvement, developing rigorous curriculum or ensuring weak teachers improve, you would be mistaken. Instead, these exams will continue to focus on the idea that they can measure a teacher’s effectiveness and therefore a school's value, based on one standardized exam. The latest proposal excludes the professional educators, the very administrators employed by local tax payers and school boards, from the process of measuring the strength of their employees - essentially undermining the purpose behind their employment and handing over local control to people who are unaccountable to the local community. The new proposal also moves towards eliminating proven educational measures of quality teaching such as the use of professional goal setting and portfolios which provide a broader picture of the teacher and stronger evidence of student development and performance.
This sounds illogical, right? So you might ask why we are at this cross road where children’s educational future is at the mercy of politicians’ weak decision making, while local educators are powerless and look on with dismay. We are here because of politicians, who seeking political advantage, use inflammatory rhetoric directed against educators and public education as a whole. The ultimate goal however, is to promote those working to profit from the ills of public education through privatization, voucher systems and charter schools. What has taken a back seat is the core American principle, that government has a moral obligation to consider the public good by working to implement thoughtful public educational policy - policy which would be focused on what children need on a daily basis in the classroom and then work to make sure real working reforms are appropriately funded.
While it would be disingenuous for anyone dedicated to providing quality education to say that the public education system is without faults, to use political tactics, like tying the need for an on time state budget to education reform is disturbing. What is needed is the desire of public representatives to roll up their sleeves and work with professional educators to craft difficult solutions to meet the differing needs of the 700+ public school districts in New York from urban, rural and suburban areas.
Sadly, we are very far from that reasonable scenario here in New York. What was difficult to witness in the run up to the passage of the state budget, was the many legislators who claimed to support public education, but explained that they felt forced to vote for the education reforms anyway. These actions demonstrate that our state representatives were not misguided, but consciously chose to acknowledge the faults in the education proposal and then blatantly ignored the interests of children, families, educators and freely elected school board members throughout the state. All of whom strenuously opposed these reforms. In other-words, they admitted exchanging the value of our children's education for pragmatism. This is heart breaking.
What does all this mean for the North Shore School student and parent? As a parent, former trustee and President of the North Shore School Board (2004-2013) I have the utmost respect and trust for the school’s Superintendent, administrators and teachers. I trust that the teachers are attempting to balance test preparation and real learning and that North Shore students will do well enough on the exams. Our schools have taken many dedicated people, working diligently for over a decade to ensure a high level of valuable educational programs and experiences and what is at risk, is that these invested changes can be quickly undone.
If Long Island was a state it would rank first in the nation in graduation rates and first in producing Intel Semifinalists. Most New York suburban schools should be held out as a model for what public education should be. However, it is now quite clear that the punitive nature of the "one size fits all" reforms has completely ignored the success of schools like North Shore.
We are at a cross road and the answer to the problem is not to write or complain to law makers. There are numerous things that need to happen. Parents must educate themselves as to what is happening and make an educated decision about whether their children should refuse the tests. And, parents must be keenly aware of who they are voting for - both in their state representatives and school board trustees.
While approximately 64,000 students state-wide in 2014 opted out of state exams, that was not enough to stop these destructive proposals. However, if the number of test refusals increases, especially in the successful public schools, the poorly designed reforms dependent on the tests will suffer. It is time to shut down the state's testing machine.
Every citizen has a vested obligation to ensure public education continues to exist. Our local taxpayers have borne the financial burden to ensure North Shore is moving forward and is a place where everyone strives to meet each child's needs. It is time that we demonstrate that we value our local school and we honor our local control of them. This has to start with refusing to allow our children to take the state's common core exams.
Carolyn Mazzu Genovesi, is an ethics lawyer who works for the NY State Court System, alumna of NS Schools, former trustee and President of the NS School Board and parent of two graduates and a student at NS.
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