POTSDAM – As elementary school students begin nine hours of new standardized testing this week, a Potsdam Central parent is asking state officials and school board members to cease the state’s “misdirected efforts” and stop the “abuse” of children.
“In the next two weeks, our 8- to 14 year-old children will be subjected to 9 hours of high-stakes testing. It will literally bring some to tears,” said Tom French, a teacher at Massena Central School’s Leary Junior High and parent of two Potsdam students.
French made his comments in an email sent Saturday to state Sen. Joseph Griffo, Assemblywoman Addie Russell and Potsdam Board of Education members.
“The current obsession with high-stakes testing is neither healthy nor beneficial to the education of our children,” he wrote. He wants to pull his two children out of the testing but might not be able to.
French noted about parents of 25 students at nearby Saranac Lake Central Elementary School are expected to boycott the tests because they are “frustrated with the state’s reliance on standardized testing,” according to a recent Adirondack Daily Enterprise story.
The tests to be administered to third- through eighth-graders this week are aimed at assessing their skill at new higher national Common Core standards. Exams for “English language arts,” or English, take place this Tuesday through Thursday. The students will be tested again Wednesday through Friday April 24-26 in mathematics.
The elementary school tests will run longer than those taken by people seeking admission to law school, licensing as a stockbroker or certification as a dermatologist, French notes. The new standardized exams are part of a federal and state effort to broaden what children learn and to test them on what they have learned.
Last month, New York State United Teachers, the state’s largest teachers’ union, asked parents to join teachers in opposing the state’s use of what the teachers’ union calls “hastily implemented standardized tests for high-stakes decisions affecting students and teachers.”
“While NYSUT supports the ‘potential’ of the new Common Core learning standards and fully embraces the principle of accountability for students and educators, two-thirds of teachers said in a poll that their students lacked textbooks and materials aligned with the state’s new standards,” union officials said in a prepared statement. “Even worse, many teachers say students will be tested next month on material that has not yet been taught, with the state still distributing materials and guidance to teachers as late as last month.”
Among the loudest complaints from parents and teachers who have seen test samples is concern the tests will ask kids to answer questions their teachers have not had the time or materials to teach in class, and that the tests are geared to test subject matter that would not be covered thoroughly until the end of the school year.
The tests will also constitute a substantial part of the metrics used to gauge teachers on new performance standards.
French provides some perspective on what the elementary and middle school students will be enduring during their nine hours of tests.
French says the standard law school admissions test, the LSAT, runs 2.9 hours plus a 35-minute writing sample; “NYPD Officer Written Exam designed to measure the cognitive ability, observational skills, and mental acuity of applicants to the NYPD takes one hour and 30 minutes to complete”; the licensing exam for stockbrokers is a six-hour test; and “the American Board of Dermatology certification exam is eight hours long, but that includes breaks.”
French says that over 1,500 principals in New York State have signed a position paper opposing “the use of high stakes testing for teacher evaluations,” and have raised “serious concerns about high stakes testing all together.”
And there are doubts that many school districts have enough computers and related equipment to administer the testing, and whether or not the kids taking the tests have the keyboarding skills the tests will require.
French also asserts that the education system “is being hijacked by corporate interests, textbook manufacturers, and computer/software companies such as Pearson, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and McGraw-Hill (parent company of Standard & Poors, often associated with the recent sub-prime mortgage debacle). As pointed out by New York Times columnist Gail Collins, ‘We have turned school testing into a huge corporate profit center.’”
“The current commissioner of education, paid consultants, and the state education bureaucracy claim that the tests are ‘authentic’ and grade level. As an educator and parent who has seen samples recently provided by the state, I can assure you they are neither,” French says.
His desire for action, on the testing and to pull his children out from under the steamroller, follows an email exchange with A.A. Kingston Middle School Principal James Cruikshank where Cruikshank explains that French can keep his children out of school the morning of the first tests but that they would be required to take them the following week during a make-up period.
“The state has made it clear to us that we have to make every reasonable attempt to have all of our students tested,” Cruikshank wrote.
“Education is about nurturing children. It requires individualized attention to the specific needs of each student. Over testing is not the answer,” French says.