RYE, N.Y. -- Two school superintendents, a college professor and two local school teachers who are parents shared their views of state-testing trends on Thursday night.
Despite mostly tempered, politically-correct remarks, four of the five said New York state is regressing -- not progressing -- in getting the most out of its students, teachers and taxpayer dollars.
During a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Rye, Rye Brook & Port Chester at Rye Middle School, all five agreed that education reform is a decades-old concept and that some public schools began using standardized tests, and Regents tests, to measure students and teaching since the 1970s. The 90-minute discussion will be available on video here and here .
Jennifer Fall, an English teacher and director of the Rye School of Leadership, said there is a misconception that the movement to opt out of testing is a drive led by teachers' unions. In fact, Fall said, parent groups have led the effort, and ultimately it will be parents who can persuade the state Education Department or state legislators that the system is flawed.
Statewide, an estimated 200,000 students refused to take last month's state English Language Arts and math assessment tests. Daily Voice found that more than 50 percent of students at some high schools in Putnam and Westchester counties declined to take the state tests.
Edward Kliszus, superintendent of the Port Chester School District, said the state tests are so poorly designed, and so ineffective at measuring teaching that Port Chester uses its own, separate tests to measure progress, assess curricula and evaluate teachers -- in addition to the state tests or risk losing more state money.
Kliszus argued that the public education system continues to favor rich over poorer school districts, "leaving no rich child behind." Because the state is placing so much emphasis on math and English, at the expense of all other subjects, he said, some educators are channeling more resources toward the state tests.
In addition, since the new state budget requires teachers' performance reviews be tied to student progress on state tests, Kliszus and the teachers said, educators will teach toward test success, and prep students for them more than ever -- at the expense of creativity, field trips or other activities that might better prepare students for college, the real world and competitive workplace.
Robert Reis, a White Plains Middle School English teacher, said the lengthy state ELA tests that ask questions "two levels higher" than eighth graders' skill levels -- such as the writings of Anton Chekhov -- are designed "to manufacture a crisis of failure."
Peter D. Salins, professor of political science at SUNY Stony Brook and a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, spoke strongly in favor of Common Core and standardized testing, saying it's an important way to raise education standards nationwide. "We need metrics,'' Sains said.
Reis countered that there are other ways to measure students' success including project-based learning, in-class writing prompts, group work and homework assignments. "The tests should not be the goal,'' Reis said.
Frank Alvarez, superintendent of the Rye City Public Schools, said Rye and other Westchester school districts already teach above Common Core requirements.
"What is exciting to me about the Common Core is that for the first time in our nation's history, a fifth grader should be learning the same content no matter where they live,'' Alvarez said.
But the implementation of Common Core and new testing standards "occurred too fast,'' Alvarez said. "The roll-out has suffered due to it being attached to teachers' standards . . .I don't think our public schools are failing in America."
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