April 16, 2013

Editorial: Pressure from excessive testing


---- — While it is, comparatively, a small number of parents who will opt their children out from the statewide exams today, the rebellion will continue to grow unless New York makes adjustments in what many deem as excessive testing.

The Press-Republican does support standardized tests as one important tool for evaluating the progress of students and schools. And we also endorse the periodic evaluation of teachers; for too long, tenure has protected ineffective and uninspired educators along with the majority who put their skills and hearts into their jobs.

But the confluence this year of standardized tests based on a relatively new national curriculum and the first year of state-mandated teacher evaluations has put immense pressure directly where it should not be: on the heads of third-graders.

Those children, and other grades that will be tested, have been practicing practically nonstop for tests that suddenly seem to have the significance of college entrance exams. Schools can lose funding if students don’t perform well. Teachers will be evaluated on how the kids score.

Certainly, we all want children in New York to be held to high educational standards. No one likes to read that American students are being outperformed by other countries, that they are lagging in areas that will be essential to the intellectual growth of this country, such as math and science.

But most people also know that tests alone are not an accurate marker of a particular student’s abilities. Evaluations must evolve beyond just what they can memorize — still the main skill that tests can evaluate — and assess their creativity, social skills, ability to solve challenges and other traits that can help them succeed.

The Common Core curriculum could soon measure achievable standards, but even the State Education Department admits that students are expected to perform poorly this year. Schools say they weren’t given enough time or resources to teach the curriculum that students will be tested on today.

Some parents decided to send a message to the state by not having their children take the tests. A State Education Department spokesman told the Press-Republican: “Parents who keep their children from taking these tests are essentially saying, ‘I don’t want to know where my child stands, in objective terms, on the path to college and career readiness.’”

That statement is so ridiculous it is hard to know where to start. These parents obviously care very much for the welfare of their children or they wouldn’t be concerned about the amount of pressure on them. And how effective are these tests at evaluating the college and career potential of 8- and 9-year-olds?

Periodic and consistent exams are one way to evaluate student, teacher and school performance. But the state must find a better measurement gauge than administering onerous high-stakes tests that leave many students and schools doomed to fail.