EDUCATION: Battle over high-stakes testing comes to RCSD

This is a corrected version of this story.

BY TIM LOUIS MACALUSO

PDF: Standardized testing resolution

Rochester school board member Mary Adams wants to eliminate high-stakes standardized testing in the school district. Her proposal (above) will be voted on at next month’s board meeting.

High stakes testing was a main feature of the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind law, and it continues to be a principal component of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top legislation. Actions under both administrations put a huge emphasis on rigorous testing from elementary grades through high school.

Schools that fail to meet state standards have typically faced punitive consequences. Federal and state aid can be withheld, and schools that don’t improve are often closed.

Reformers hailed the actions, saying that teachers in the nation’s public schools need to meet higher accountability standards. And they’ve argued that poverty has too often been an excuse for low student performance in most large urban school districts.

But opponents of high stakes testing say there’s little research suggesting that the testing regimens improve student outcomes. Just the opposite is true, they say.

More than a dozen people spoke in support of Adams’s resolution at last night’s board meeting, including several professors from area’s colleges.

Education advocate Carrie Remis, director of the Parent Power Project, issued a statement earlier today, rejecting the proposed testing ban:

“The Adams resolution is nothing more than a political stunt orchestrated by the teachers union as part of a national campaign to undermine public confidence in the new evaluation systems being implemented around the country as a result of parent and taxpayer cries for more accountability.”

Still, one of the evening’s speakers may have made the most compelling case for the resolution. City student Artesha Ingram spoke passionately about the struggles she’s having completing high school.

Ingram said she had always earned good grades until she reached high school, and then things became more difficult. Much of her difficulty is due to a toxic mix of anxiety and environmental pressures that, she says, are impacting her and most of her peers. She said she cannot devote as much time to her studies as she’d like because she helps her grandmother raise and care for her younger siblings. She said some of her teachers are extremely supportive, but others are not. And she said she’s contemplating dropping out.

Ingram described an educational environment where student disruption is constant, weapons are prevalent, and emotional support from district staff is in short supply. Students come to school with problems ranging from utter fatigue to sexual violence, she said.

6 comments

  1. Dan Drmacich · · Reply

    Mary Adams’ resolution against the obsessive use of high-stakes, standardized testing in Rochester and New York State, is a major piece of the puzzle, as far as overhauling our broken education system. Shifting the emphasis of education from “test-prep” to 21st Century Learning Skills and the needs and interests of the student, would dramatically change the current “test-prep,” “test-driven” mode of operation that currently dominates the nation, and especially poor, urban school districts, like Rochester. Writer Tim Macaluso, and Parent Power director, Carrie Remis tend to indicate that there is some evidence and research to show that the use of high-stakes, standardized testing to evaluate student learning and teacher competency is valid. Where is this research and data? For years, progressive education reformers have requested this research from state and federal officials, but have never seen it produced. The only emperical research that exists is that which shows that the use of high-stakes, standardized testing is counter-productive to meaningful, significant learning by students, especially by those who are living in poverty). (See research by Berliner, Ryan & Deci, Darling-Hammond, NYS Consortium Schools, Rothstein & Ravitch to confirm this.)
    Carrie Remis, should also be careful in sharing general data, that she doesn’t completely understand. In this case she makes some inaccurate, incomplete statements about graduation rates for Rochester’s School Without Walls (SWW), which limits its use of high-stakes standardized testing through a variance to the NYS Consortium Schools. This past year SWW finished second in the RCSD, to School of the Arts, as far as graduation rates. One must realize that in terms of general education requirements for all students, SWW has the most rigorous graduation requirements in the Rochester-area; including extensive individual projects in all subject areas, which are judged by teams of teachers and outside professionals, must complete 300 hours of community service, 150 hours of participatory decision-making for citizenship development, daily reflective journal writing about their school experiences, bi-weekly conferences with their teacher-advisors and successful completion of 25.5 credits to satisfy Regents requirements. SWW has also enrolled a huge, unbalanced share of “at-risk” students, which can be verified through the Monroe County Youth “At-Risk” surveys over the past 20 years. Given these details, it is unfair for Ms. Remis to make generalizations about SWW’s graduation rates.
    As far as any of the Board of Education speeches in favor of the Standadized Testing resolution being orchestrated by teachers’ unions; it is completely false. Those college professors, retired teachers & administrators, community folks and others who spoke, were motivated by their knowledge of the research and experiences with standardized testing; two factors of which Ms. Remis has little association.
    I would advise that Ms. Remis and others who support the obsessive use of high-stakes, standardized testing to spend some time doing their homework by reading one or more of the following resources: “The Death & Life of the Great American School System,” by Diane Ravitch, “Drive,” by Daniel Pink, “Grading Education,” by Richard Rothstein, “The Assault on Public Education,” by William Watkins, “Rhetoric vs. Reality,” by Gerald Bracey, “The Myths of Standardized Tests,” by Phillip Harris, or “Wasting Minds,” by Ron Wolk. Each of these books is based upon emperical research. I await Ms. Remis’ reference to research-based resources that support the current, obsessive use of high-stakes, standardized testing.

    Dan Drmacich, Chairman
    Coalition for Justice in Education

  2. Bonnie Cannan · · Reply

    There is no question that current use of standardized testing today is the system’s way of a quick fix primary used by states and localities to help assure state funding but one that many know is seriously flawed. The question arises as to what to do to change that direction? As should be known by now the real solutions involve a much more comprehensive approach that includes fundamental change that reflects the needs and realities of urban school districts. The principals put forth by the Community Education Task Force over two years ago speak directly to they type and range of changes needed. In addition the reality of changing standardized testing by a simple resolution has proven to have little value. This is largely due to not only being too minimal in approach but also because directly r indirectly it is seen as being required in its current form to receive needed funding. An all out movement by both urban and suburban districts to seriously make the changes and to do so with strong and progressive political action could go much further to achieve meaningful change. This of course is also a significant aspect at the national level where more progressive thinking and real community involvement is not viewed as essential. This also raises an approach that is all too common in this society. Quick fixes are easy and appeal to the masses while the realities keep them suppressed.

  3. Teddi Urriola · · Reply

    Thank you Dan. As a teacher I can tell you horror stories about the over testing of our children, but then what do I know.? I am just a teacher and am probably only looking out for my own interests. Could I possibly care about our children and the future? Evidently Ms. Remis doesn’t think so.

  4. Sara Northwood · · Reply

    I agree with Teddi. Every year schools analyze data, make changes and redirect focus to help students pass the standardized tests. And year after year progress is minimal with no regard for the learning that takes place. For many students the bar is too high and the smaller improvements they make don’t matter. So, they give up. The current testing environment draws attention away from good teaching and student learning. Thank you to all who continue to address this issue and refute the persistent misinformation perpetrated by Ms. Remis and her ilk.

  5. lisa englert · · Reply

    I also take issue with Ms. Remis’ comment regarding the teacher’s union crying foul over the new evaluation system. I can say firsthand that as a mentor teacher with the rcsd we(myself and many of my colleagues) trained extemely hard this summer to, not only understand the new evaluation system, but to become a part of it as peer reviewers. Under the leadership of Marie Costanza, we gave up many hours to train using the rubric so we could begin the year aiding our colleagues in the classroom where needed. We are not against accountability provided it is a fair system (appr has many,many flaws but we’ll save that discussion for another time) So Ms Remis whenever you would like to have a discussion about the rcsd union’s take on this system I’m open to dialogue on how I feel about it as I will not speak for others – l. englert – rcsd rta senior high representative for executive council – the teacher- bashing is really becoming boring –

  6. High stakes testing has a place, but the constancy of it is disruptive at best, and completely inaccurate at worst.
    The single largest problem with high-stakes testing is that the students are being tested to evaluate the teachers. Guess who has no skin in this game? The students taking the test! I am quite aware that a certain number of students (mostly older – 7th/8th grade) are aware of this and thus don’t take the tests seriously and get inaccurate results.
    According to SchoolDigger.com, Rochester is 695th of 702 NY districts. I guarantee that we don’t have the 695th worst teachers. But we do have the poorest students, we have had nothing but disruptive administration for the 3 years of Brizard, and less than complete stability for some time before and after that.
    I found that site due to the fact that I’m switching schools this year, and wanted to learn about my new one. One look at the data will show that something is seriously wrong with the entire system – testing, community, administration, student preparedness, even some teaching.
    One problem is the sheer stressfulness of working in the City leads to high turnover, and a larger than normal percentage of young/new teachers with little experience.
    New teachers are excellent at doing a number of things – rejuvenating a stale system, questioning the status quo, introducing new ideas, techniques and technology – but they are not experts at classroom dynamics and instruction. Some are naturally gifted at it, but most work their butts off to improve, and about the time they’re getting really good, a significant number go to work in the suburbs.
    This does not excuse burned out or lazy teachers, but trust me when I say the number of those is tiny. Administrators have ways of making sure those teachers don’t stick around. (They also use these techniques on teachers who they find troublesome for other, less valid, reasons, which is why tenure is important.)
    Our teachers are among the hardest-working, highest trained teachers out there. We participate in a significant amount of Professional Development, and the auditing that goes into ensuring every teacher has their appropriate certification and education is significant. NO teacher is in a classroom they’re not educationally prepared for. No longer do we have uncertified teachers teaching, like we did when I started teaching. No longer can a teacher without the requisite certification be plugged into a classroom just because they are a warm body and have an agreeable nature.

    To reiterate my point – high-stakes testing MUST have consequences for the students as well! If a student who is not reading at grade level is retained until they are, a huge percentage will either find a way, or not get behind to begin with. ENDING SOCIAL PROMOTION IS THE BEST, MOST IMMEDIATE REFORM THE RCSD CAN INITIATE.

    If you want to evaluate teachers… evaluate the teachers! Test us, watch us, observe us, visit our classrooms so you can be more informed as to the situations we are laboring under, and base your evaluation based on a thorough understanding of our jobs.

    Evaluating us based on students who we see for 40 minutes a day, and/or are responsible for up to 7 hours of 24, 180 days of 365 is specious at best.
    It is like evaluating a baseball manager who only got to manage the 8th and 9th innings, and only coached/trained an hour a week and basing the evaluation on wins/losses.
    It is like evaluating the chef who took the lasagna out of the oven, cut it and put it on the plate, but who had no responsibility for the sauce, noodles, oven temperature or vegetables or sausage used, and basing the evaluation on the taste of the food..
    It is like evaluating the quality of a car based on the clarity of the glass and quality of the paint job, and not on the durability, handling or horsepower.

    Basically… it cannot be anything but inaccurate.

    (I will, however, defend Regents exams to some extent, because they are largely based on the content taught that year, and less about the years leading up to them. They still shouldn’t be used to evaluate anyone but the students, however, for the reasons stated above.)

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