Saratoga Springs schools reject reliance on tests
Officials demand broader evaluation plan
SARATOGA SPRINGS The Saratoga Springs City School District is joining others across the state in asking state education officials to stop their “over-reliance on standardized tests” as a measure of a student’s performance.
“The growing reliance on, and misalignment of, standardized testing is eroding student learning time, narrowing the curriculum, and jeopardizing the rich, meaningful education our students need and deserve,” says a resolution passed Tuesday night by the city school district’s Board of Education.
State-required standardized testing of elementary school students is more unpopular than ever this spring because new federal “Common Core” tests are being introduced.
The new English language arts and math tests, which will be given to students in grades 3 through 8 on April 16-18 and 24-26, are expected to be more difficult than earlier tests and some of the material on the Common Core tests may not have been covered by teachers, according to New York State United Teachers (NYSUT).
Saratoga Springs Superintendent Michael Piccirillo said the local resolution was based on concerns being expressed by NYSUT and others about the new Common Core tests.
“We modified it for our own uses,” Piccirillo said. He said Saratoga’s board wanted to make a general statement to state and federal educators about over-relying on standardized tests to measure student achievement.
Piccirillo advocates a “balanced assessment program” to measure a student’s progress, not just a yearly state-mandated test on one or two particular days. Such things as classroom performance and even community involvement should be used in assessments.
At the start of Tuesday’s meeting in the Dorothy Nolan Elementary School in Wilton, Karen Swift, president of the Saratoga Springs Teachers’ Association, said teachers feel there is too much emphasis on standardized testing.
Swift said the state’s switch to the national Common Core testing next week is a shift in curriculum that students aren’t yet comfortable with. Having the school board approve the resolution urging state and federal officials to place less emphasis on standardized testing was a “great positive.”
“We are working together,” Swift said.
Before the board passed the resolution, board member Michael Ladd said he wanted to make it clear that the board was not opposed to the Common Core standards and curriculum, which is a national initiative to improve the performance of students across the country.
Board member Russ Danforth said the board isn’t against the Common Core standards, just the fact that the state is again deciding how the district implements the program and forcing the new testing on the students before the new curriculum has been fully introduced and taught.
The board vote on the resolution was unanimous. Board president Regina Gapczynski said she hopes the state Education Department and board of Regents responds to the district’s concerns.
In some parts of the state and country, parents have decided to keep their children home on the standardized test days in protest of the damage they feel such testing causes.
City school district officials are urging parents not to have their children “opt out” of the tests. If less than 95 percent of the eligible students take the state-required tests, then the school is penalized and could be placed on school-in-need-of-improvement lists and lose federal funding.
NYSUT has been conducting a high profile campaign the past two weeks, urging parents and educators to sign a petition asking State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. and the state Board of Regents to reduce the use of and reliance on standardized testing.
“As a parent, it is clear to me that testing in New York state isn’t being done right and is hurting my child’s education,” says the NYSUT petition, which had been signed by more than 7,800 as of Tuesday.
“New York must end the obsession with high-stakes, standardized tests and return to educating the whole child. Assessments should be used to inform instruction and not as a hammer to crush critical thinking and creativity,” the petition says.
“New York must stop placing high stakes on too many tests, given too frequently, and that narrow the curriculum,” the petition says.
State education officials say that schools have known since 2010 that the Common Core testing would start in 2013.
“Three years ago, in the fall of 2009 and early winter of 2010, the Board of Regents launched an educational sea change in New York State,” says King in a letter about Common Core testing.
“The goal of the Regents Reform Agenda is very straightforward: All students should graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college and careers,” King said in the letter.
“One of the key pillars of that agenda is the shift to the Common Core standards,” he wrote.