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Richard Iannuzzi: New York’s Testing Folly

This week, in classrooms across the state, hundreds of thousands of elementary and middle school students are taking standardized tests – the first tests given by the State Education Department based on the new Common Core learning standards.

The “Common Core” – as it’s known in education circles – raises the bar for what students must know and be able to do to be ready for college and careers.  It stresses critical thinking and using document-based research to solve problems and answer questions.

If done right, the Common Core has the potential to enrich and expand student learning.  The key word is “potential,” and, of course, the key phrase is "if done right."

Unfortunately, it’s not being done right … and students and teachers will suffer.

State Education Department leaders publicly acknowledge that student test scores will plummet, falling by up to 30 percent – and perhaps more.  They even acknowledge that some school districts … I would argue many … have failed to adequately provide needed resources and materials for teachers to properly instruct their students.

What State Education Commissioner John King, and the Board of Regents are not publicly acknowledging, however, is the State’s failure to provide timely and appropriate guidance to support teaching the new Common Core.

In other words:  This week, students are taking high-stakes standardized tests based on material they have not been taught.If that sounds absurd, it is.

It flies in the face of everything that teachers know is good for the students they care about.

Many blame the State Education Department for rushing to test the Common Core this year, even though the federal government doesn’t require it until 2014.  Whether school districts are partially to blame for not being prepared may also be true.  But, while the State Education Department and school districts point fingers at each other, only students and teachers are paying a price.

“High stakes” potentially means that, when scores drop, some students won’t get promoted to the next grade; some won’t make the cut-off for gifted and talented programs, and some will be – wrongly and inaccurately – labeled as needing remedial services.  For teachers it means evaluations that will be skewed by invalid and inaccurate test results.

If you ask the State Education Department why it is doing this, the answer goes something like this:  First, they say that since all the scores will drop by about 30 percent, everything will be okay because they’re equally wrong for everyone.  Then they add, besides, we already purchased the tests.

Got that?

Next they say that New York has to test now – even though many students won't be prepared – because it must establish a baseline for future years.

That’s sort of like the car mechanic telling you he isn’t finished fixing the brakes … and you’re probably going to crash … but you should drive the car anyway because he needs a baseline to show how the car will stop once the brakes are repaired.

Doesn’t make any sense, does it?

After failing to convince the state to do it right, the union I lead, New York State United Teachers, launched a major campaign uniting parents and teachers against the state’s misuse of standardized tests.

Thousands of parents and their supporters have already signed the petition and you, too, can join us by visiting www.nysut.org/testing.

We’ve made a commitment to get it done right.  The State Education Department should model best educational practice by doing the same.

Richard C. Iannuzzi is president of the 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not reflect the views of this station or its management.

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