A majority of Plattsburgh parents have recently opted their children out of standardized testing for the upcoming school year.
The Washington Post recently reported findings from a Gallup poll, which states, “‘Not only do Americans think kids are subjected to too many standardized tests, but a majority reject holding teachers, students and schools accountable based in part on test scores.’”
Parents have the right to do that, but the opt-outs occur in such large numbers that there isn’t a big enough sample for the school district to base their results on.
Students are tested every year from third grade to eighth grade along with other tests such as the Regents and Scholastic Assessment Tests.
Plattsburgh City School District Superintendent James Short said the SATs, which are criticized of being outdated, are used by some colleges as a national measurement stick of how someone may perform.
Since then, Short said CollegeBoard, a private company that develops and administers the SAT to schools, has “revamped” the SAT to more closely match Common Core standards, and those of high schools and colleges as well.
Short said part of the problem parents have is the frequency and intensity of these tests. Two tests are given each year to students from third through eighth grades – one for English and language arts and one for mathematics.
“What most people say is, ‘Why bother?’” Short said. Instead of the frequent testing, Short suggests one test in fourth grade to get students ready for middle school and one test in eighth grade to get them prepared for high school. These tests can then be used to gauge whether the testing system needs any change. In high school, he said, they should “stick with the Regents exams” and “keep it simple.”
Short also said some are pushing for strict evaluation measures on teachers.
“Kids should only deserve to have the strongest of teachers in front of them,” he said. “The testing measures aren’t found yet to be the best measure of that.”
Short suggests direct observation as a means of teacher evaluation.
“To have a test measurement that could be flawed in many ways – it doesn’t quite cut it,” Short said. “It’s not exactly what’s going on in the classroom.”
PSUC Associate Professor of History Connie Shemo is among the 60 to 75 percent who have chosen to opt her children out, but her reasons are a bit more specific.
“I don’t have a problem with standardized testing. I don’t have a problem with rigorous standardized testing,” Shemo said. “I think it’s good for kids to be held to high standards.”
However, her problem was with the way Pearson Publishing, a for-profit company that used to develop the standardized test for the state, administered the test. Shemo said Pearson did not provide sample testing booklets to give students and teachers an idea of what will be on the test. She said Pearson’s reason for this was because they don’t want teachers to teach the test that will be given.
“About 40 percent of the teacher’s … bonuses are tied (to these tests), and yet they have the gall to say, ‘We’re not going to make our questions available to the teachers because we don’t want them to teach the test’?” she said. “It’s insulting to the teachers; it’s condescending.”
The Journal News reported the state has signed a deal with Questar Assessment Inc., to develop the English/language arts and math tests for students.
Neither Pearson nor Questar could be reached for comment in time for publication.
Education Professor Douglas Selwyn also took issue with the idea of a for-profit company making money off standardized testing.
“Any for-profit company has no business creating assessments that are used in public school, because their interest is not education— it’s in making money,” Selwyn said. “It’s the right kind of attitude for a business to have, but it has no place in education.”
Robert Greenspan, a social work major, said standardized tests hinder the learning process, and they “don’t prove anything.”
“Teachers are unable to teach because they are teaching the requirements for the test,” Greenspan said. “The whole system needs to change.”
Selwyn said a standardized approach to testing does not work because everyone is a different sort of learner, and there are many different kinds of intelligence.
“It’s like measuring the nutritional value of a breakfast by looking at the nutritional value of toast,” he said.
Email Timothy Lyman at firstname.lastname@example.org