January 14, 2013

In My Opinion: Impact of testing on academic freedom

Much has been said, in recent months, about the significant increase in New York state testing and its negative impact on the students, particularly those in the elementary grades.

The driving forces behind all the testing are federal Race to the Top funds and an increased accountability for public schools. Evaluations of schools, teachers and building principals are all being hinged upon the testing results of students.

Ironically, all this testing bears no impact on student grades. As an educator for 34 years, I always took exception to “teaching for the test.” I did, however, embrace the practice of inspiring students to learn and engage in the higher thinking skills of analysis and written, as well as spoken, expression, all not required on standardized tests.

As a classroom teacher and later as building principal, I was provided the opportunity for academic freedom.

The magnitude of high-stakes testing today, in New York state’s public schools, has all but eliminated academic freedom for classroom teachers and their principals.

We can all share stories of those teachers who inspired us, as students, to learn and oftentimes made learning fun. They rewarded us to be imaginative, to think “out of the box” and provided us the opportunity to express ourselves in both writing and the spoken word.

Today’s teachers can ill afford the luxuries associated with academic freedom. They are largely evaluated on student-test-driven results and not on their qualities for the art of teaching (pedagogy).

Dr. Don Sternberg, a principal at Wantagh Elementary School in Wantagh, N.Y., wrote a letter of apology on Sept. 4, 2012, to all his students’ parents and/or guardians that went viral. He apologized for encouraging a school learning environment that “will be teaching students to be effective test takers, a skill that does not necessarily translate into critical thinking.” He also noted in his letter that excessive testing is “unhealthy for the students.”

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