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New York Gets it Wrong!

April 11, 2012

New York gets it wrong

The following commentary is from a Mr. John Metallo who is a retired teacher and school administrator.  Mr. Metallo has an interesting take on how money is spent on public schools in New York.  The Department of Education for NY is proposing spending one million dollars a year to police the giving of standardized, high-stakes tests.  Think about that for a moment.  That is mind-blowing because it shows where the priorities lie with the people who are running public education.

Should there be cheating on tests?  No, of course not.  But we are missing the forest for the trees here because it is the testing zeitgeist that is creating this problem, but no one in the upper echelons of public school management seems to be willing, or capable enough to peel the onion enough to make it down this layer of understanding.

New York Board of Regents Chancellor Meryl Tisch recently announced that beginning next year, the state Education Department will institute a test-security unit that will look for cheating on standardized tests.

The chancellor stated that, “This was not done in response to a widespread epidemic. This is about preventing rare and unfortunate cases and ensuring systemwide we have a testing system that works.”

In other words, the state Education Department will now spend at least $1 million a year to solve a problem that does not exist.

This comes just as school districts continue to fire teachers, support staff and administrators, as well as making cuts in just about every program offered in order to reduce budget gaps created by the draconian cuts made to state aid over the past three years.

I can’t help but ask, what is wrong with this picture?

Once again, the state Education Department — led by Ms. Tisch and Dr. John King, the commissioner of education, both loyal supporters of Gov. Andrew Cuomo‘s education plan — continue to march in the opposite direction of almost every other entity in the advancement of education.

For example, the federal government and administration of President Barack Obama recently ended the testing requirements mandated by the No Child Left Behind legislation created by President George Bush in the early 2000s.

I am not sure what Mr. Metallo is speaking of with regard to the Federal Government ending testing requirements…I do believe he is mistaken.

Many of the most prestigious colleges in the United States have dropped requirements for the SAT and ACT when considering high school students for admission. The reason being that standardized testing does very little to measure student growth or student potential.

The SAT, long considered the gold standard of college entrance testing, predicts how a college student might fare during the first year of college — that is all it can predict — and is accurate only 25 percent of the time.

I found this statistic to be interesting because it shows us that testing is not the “end-all-be-all” of learning and education in public schools.  Think about it: Have you ever crammed really hard for a test?  You get into the test, you basically do a data-dump with the information in your head, and then…it is done, that information is gone for the most part.  Is that truly educating a person?  I believe my readers know the answer to that question.

Rather than relying on this less than accurate prediction, top colleges are now leaning toward student success during the high school years through grades earned in various courses, teachers’, counselors’ and principals’ letters of recommendation, participation in extracurricular activities and community service. It is interesting that colleges want to see students involved in extracurricular activities, and schools across New York are dropping these programs like hot potatoes in an effort to balance budgets. I would call this a disconnect of major proportions.

Undaunted by any of these factors, New York will now spend more than $1 million per year to monitor the security on testing which has been deemed to be very sound, according to the person recommending the institution of the new security program.

I am missing something here, but I cannot put my finger on it.

Further, the new security department will be staffed by lawyers and former law enforcement investigators. Now, there are people very familiar with school students and academic testing.

Note to the Education Department: If you really want to learn about cheating on tests, talk to some students, teachers and school administrators. They can tell you not only how to uncover cheating, but, more importantly, how to prevent it. We are dealing with school kids here, not criminals; there is no need for lawyers and police officers to be involved.

Additionally, in yet another slap at New York’s teachers, new testing guidelines will prevent teachers from grading the tests of the students they teach. This implies that teachers cheat for their students. As a teacher and administrator, I am offended by this implication.

The million-dollar security force pales in comparison to the tens of millions of dollars spent by the state education department and local school districts to create, administer and score the barrage of tests to which elementary, middle and high school students in New York are subjected to every year. This is a case of Nero fiddling while Rome burns.

It is time to realize that testing in and of itself does nothing to improve student performance. The testing must be linked to something relevant in the learning process, and that is the teaching that goes on in the classroom. Testing then becomes not only a measure of student performance but also teacher effectiveness as well as curriculum content.

This last paragraph gets at the heart of why I posted this piece.  Testing is NOT integral to improving student performance, it simply isn’t.  It is really a shame that the ideology of NCLB high-stakes testing has become so ingrained in our public school system.  Thank you GWB for signing this into law…and Mr. Obama, I thought better of you…

State leaders are recommending a plan that deserves a grade of “F” on the test of common sense.

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