Press-Republican

April 15, 2013

Parents, board protest 'excessive testing'

By KIM SMITH DEDAM
Press-Republican

---- — SARANAC LAKE — Saranac Lake School Board has asked the state to reduce the amount of standardized testing required.

Board members, parents and some faculty have posed a challenge to high-stakes exams mandated by the State Education Department.

Tests in English language arts, math, science and social studies are given to students in grades 3 to 8 every year.

CRAMMING

Preparation for assessment tests in Saranac Lake impelled a month-long March Math Madness, where students spent much of their day doing only math.

That’s because test questions this year are based on new national Common Core standards without regard for or time to adjust the existing school rubric, according to some concerned parents.

Zoe Smith said the scenario in her child’s school left no room for other classwork besides specials, such as music, library and phys ed.

“They were cramming the kids for a test, doing three units of math in one month so they (the kids) could at least see it before the test.”

GROUP FORMED

Parents decided to take action and, along with some teachers, formed the Saranac Lake Parent Faculty Education Alliance.

“We’re just getting organized,” Smith said.

Parents of about 25 students have sent notice to the school principals to refuse testing, which will require parents to pick the kids up from school and trigger a “tardy” for the morning test sessions, according to information from the parent group’s Facebook page.

MEASUREMENT QUESTIONED

To address overarching concerns, the alliance passed a resolution with nine points, asserting that the mandatory tests are an “unreliable measure of student learning and educator effectiveness.”

The alliance also charges that “overemphasis on standardized testing has caused considerable collateral damage in too many schools, including narrowing the curriculum, teaching to the test, reducing love of learning, pushing students out of school, driving excellent teachers out of the profession and undermining school climate.”

BOARD RESOLUTION

Last Thursday, Saranac Lake School Board accepted the group’s position and issued their own challenge to state and national lawmakers to “reduce the testing mandates and promote multiple forms of evidence of student learning and school quality in accountability.”

“We are looking to where we can best effect change,” Smith said, “and to inform the community and ourselves about what impact testing has on children, on our schools and on education.

“The (alliance) is thrilled to get the support from the (School Board), and we thank them for their courage in passing this resolution. This does not mean they won’t administer the tests in our schools. This resolution is a statement to our State Board of Education that our school is not happy with the current system that puts so much emphasis on a testing process that is misguided and flawed.”

The state requires that all schools achieve a 95 percent participation rate in assessment tests and uses the data to issue a school report card and to assess teacher performance. Some school aid is based on test participation.

“There is room for assessment of teachers and of our school, but the emphasis is out of control on testing right now,” Smith said.

The stress levels put on students are unacceptable, she said, and the testing system negates sound educational values, she said.

“There needs to be a priority on teaching our children and not teaching them to perform for these tests.”

Email Kim Smith Dedam: kdedam@pressrepublican.com

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TEST FORUM

The Saranac Lake Parent Faculty Education Alliance will hold an information session and screening of the film "Race to Nowhere," which raises issues about high-stakes testing.

The film will be shown at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Petrova School auditorium in Saranac Lake, with a discussion session to follow.

Information about the film and a trailer are online at: RacetoNowhere.com To learn more about the Saranac Lake Parent Faculty Education Alliance, find them on Facebook.