BOARD OF EDUCATION CONSIDERS RESOLUTION CALLING ON STATE TO REFORM HIGH STAKES TESTING PRACTICES
July 1, 2013 -- At this evening’s Board of Education 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 have 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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