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Take a critical look at school testing

Friday, September 5, 2014
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Take a critical look at school testing

It is excessively tiresome to read news stories put out yearly by the New York State Education Department giving failing or mediocre grades to most schools, teachers and students. It is distressing that neither the local nor national news media has seen the need to challenge the premise of these stories and investigate the details of the testing, grading and classification of schools and students.

Much of this entire testing and grading is hidden and questionable. This is not about the Common Core. Most of the New York testing and ranking has been going on for two decades.

Among the questions:

Do educators in the schools know exactly what is expected to be taught and tested? Do the tests reflect what it is reasonable to be taught and learned in a given year?

Do the test makers write a valid test for the grade or subject? What do the scores really mean? Is it possible that a 4 is a 95, a 3 is a 90, a 2 is an 85, and a 1 is an 80? Is it true that so many students are doing as poorly as the rankings imply? What do any of these categories and score results really mean in terms of learning?

Why don't teachers receive information of the exact questions their students got wrong so they can emphasize the weaker learning gaps in the future?

Isn't it odd that so many do poorly every time? Would it not make sense that once a test had been taken a few times, scores would significantly rise? Why is there never improvement? Doesn't it seem likely that the patterns would change occasionally?

Is it possible that the scoring and rankings standards are changed annually by the authorities in charge to make schools look bad? Is there a hidden agenda?

If schools in the most educated and affluent suburbs can produce the highest results every year, what's their secret? Quick, let's share the news. Why are urban and rural schools always low in the rankings? Is the testing inappropriate for the students' learning styles?

Failure rates on high school Regents exams do not show the same pattern. Nearly all students "pass" after a second try, at least. Young adults in our society who went to school through this torment do not show life failure as broadly as the tests results suggest they would based on the annual rankings.

In the long run, "Does the testing and ranking mean anything?" is the most important question of all.

It is time for a critical look at this whole scheme.

Richard Terry

Schenectady

Park's disc golf an asset for all

As I was driving past Central Park in Schenectady the other day, I noticed a group of developmentally disabled young adults receiving instruction on disc golf. They were obviously having a good time.

I commend their caregivers for taking advantage of what has proven to be an asset in Central Park. Their charges were out in the fresh air, getting some exercise, reinforcing hand-eye coordination and enjoying a new experience. And all of this for free.

We can thank our county legislator Robert Hoffman, among others, for bringing disc golf to Central Park, allowing all of us to enjoy those same benefits.

Madelyn Thorne

Schenectady

The writer is the Democratic candidate for state Senate.

Get rid of Lio comic and put in Bizarro

Please get rid of the "comic" Lio. It's never funny and is always macabre and about monsters or ghouls or something dead.

Today [Aug. 30] he was giving some words of "wisdom" about how blessed our memories are and apparently blowing up the world. That's something to wake up to, right?

Since the Times Union no longer carries "Bizarro," perhaps you can get back something that's actually funny and begin running it again.

Dave Hart

Latham

McPhail has backing of GOP for justice

This letter is to clear up any confusion regarding the Republican-endorsed candidate for Glenville town justice.

The Scotia-Glenville Republican Committee spoke to numerous individuals, conducted several interviews and unanimously chose Jennifer McPhail as our candidate for Glenville town justice. She is registered to the Independence Party and also has their endorsement.

She has been a legal secretary, legal assistant, litigation paralegal and senior litigation paralegal at local Capital Region legal offices for 17 years. Her duties include drafting documents for litigation, witness statements, investigation, background checks and assisting attorneys at trial. She also has served the town of Glenville in various functions, including as a member of the Glenville Public Safety Board from 2008 to 2012.

She not only has a strong legal background but has been in decision-making and managerial positions for years. We believe this makes her the strongest candidate for Glenville town justice. The Scotia-Glenville Republican Committee carried Jennifer's petitions, as she is our endorsed candidate. We firmly believe registered Republicans from Scotia and Glenville and the Scotia-Glenville Republican Committee have chosen the strongest candidate for Glenville town justice in Jennifer McPhail.

We ask that registered Republicans in Scotia and Glenville support her on primary day, Sept. 9.

Dave Lindsay

Scotia

The writer is the Scotia-Glenville GOP chairman.

Thorne will be a true Democrat in Senate

When the Democratic voters in the 49th Senate District go to the polls on Primary Day, Sept. 9, we have a very important choice to make. We endorsed Madelyn Thorne because we believe she is the best choice to represent us in the New York State Senate.

Madelyn is a true, lifelong Democrat. She deserves your vote because she has worked tirelessly listening to the people all across this district, which encompasses Schenectady, Saratoga, Herkimer, Fulton and Hamilton counties. She understands our needs and issues.

Madelyn will fight for equitable school funding, real campaign finance reform and will work to ensure that all 10 points of the Women's Equality Act are passed by the Senate. Unlike her primary opponent, Madelyn supports a Democratic majority in the state Senate. The people of the 49th Senate District deserve to have a state senator who will bring transparency, dedication and real change to Albany.

On Sept. 9, please vote for Madelyn Thorne.

Amy Hild

Schenectady

The writer is an officer of the Schenectady County Democratic Women's Club. The letter was also signed by fellow officers Tanya Hull, Jean Gordon and Celeste Rossetti.

Find way to honor Gade for Garden

I would like to have Schenectady's mayor and the City Council take a look at the Central Park Rose Garden and find a way to honor Dave Gade for what his leadership has done for the upkeep of such a lovely garden for close to 20 years.

The garden looked extra special this year -- thanks to Dave and his hardworking volunteers. Dave is the driving force who has made this Rose Garden admired by many visitors from near and far.

I would think there is something the city could do to show its appreciation to a man who has given so much for nothing in return.

Walter "Neal" Brazell

Rotterdam

Column on good old days was on target

What a wonderful Aug. 27 guest column ["'Good old days' had a lot going for them"] from Linda Albee.

She expressed what my friends and I have been saying in bits and pieces, but she got it all included in a precise column.

I wish that article could be in all the country's newspapers and on all the TV talk shows. I plan on sending a copy to all my friends and relatives.

Thanks for publishing the column.

Jean Anderson

Schenectady

Don't trust fracking industry with health

Recently, the Gazette printed an opinion which disparaged four voices in the community who oppose hydrofracking. William Malec would have us instead trust the expertise of a fossil fuel industry, which spent $747 million in lobbying expenditures to gain and keep the exemption to the Safe Drinking Water Act, known as the "Halliburton Loophole" [Aug. 24 Gazette].

Because of this exemption, the gas industry can keep secret the proprietary formulas used in its fracking brew. This effectively means a gag order on doctors in Pennsylvania who discover carcinogens like benzene turning up in blood tests of their sick patients. The link of illness caused by fracking is thereby severed and kept secret.

Just look northward to Ontario, Canada, where they adopted a solar energy feed in tariff program for a healthy and lucrative alternative. Promising 44 cents per kilowatt hour for 20 years spurred developers to build 70 solar farms. The latest produces 10 megawatts, utilizing 55,000 panels. Imagine the employment opportunities.

What we are seeing now is the last gasp of the fossil fuel era that will soon grow obsolete. In the meantime, let's hope the next governor doesn't sell us out and allow our beautiful state to go down with them.

Deborah Krol

Fultonham

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