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Karen Magee: About Those Standardized Tests…

If you’re listening right now, you’ve probably taken a test.

For many of those tests, you studied hard.  For others, you flew by the seat of your pants.

And, when your teacher handed back your paper, you had a chance to see what you knew and got right and -- unfortunately -- what you didn’t know.

For teachers – and I was one for nearly 30 years – classroom tests serve an important purpose.

Tests are one tool that teachers use to learn which students are grasping new material and which ones need more attention.  Tests also inform instruction. That means they provide teachers with critical feedback on how the class, as a whole, is progressing – and where more emphasis or time is needed.

Most teachers will tell you classroom tests can be useful and beneficial.

Standardized tests -- like those given by the state – are a whole different matter.

Once-a-year state test results represent a snapshot in time. The aggregate data produced by standardized tests can be helpful in looking at the big picture – such as identifying achievement gaps or measuring the progress of English Language Learners.

But for teachers in the classroom, they are virtually worthless. They offer very limited information on students’ grasp of Math and English Language Arts – and only during a single, random week in spring.

The results aren’t provided until months later, in late summer or early Fall.  And, numerous studies have questioned whether state test results – especially those tied to the Common Core – are reliable, accurate or valid measures of student learning.

One of the biggest issues in Albany right now is Governor Cuomo’s demand that state tests designed to measure one thing – student and school progress – be used for an entirely different purpose.  He wants half of a teachers’ annual evaluation to be based on student test scores on these fill-in-the-bubble tests.

Frankly, it’s insane.

For those of you in the workplace, would you want 50 percent of your annual job evaluation – and, perhaps, 100 percent of your career – to be based on how a student does on a single, three-hour test?  And, what if you had no control over that child’s home environment, work ethic or daily attendance in school?

Teachers are concerned that by placing so much emphasis on state tests, the state will narrow the curriculum and create more pressure to do endless ‘test prep.’  Creativity will be replaced by yet more teaching to the test. 

Parents have also been revolting against the governor’s “test and punish” agenda. They see the way the governor is misusing test data to falsely label public schools and to attack teachers.  They are tired of their kids stressing over tests, and the way the tests are being used. Many are deciding to “opt out” and have their children skip the tests altogether.  Whether it’s to sit for the tests or not, when parents make decisions in the best interests of their children, teachers will support those decisions 100 percent of the time.

Parents and communities across New York trust their teachers… are proud of their local schools… and understand that students – and teachers – are more than a test score.  In a recent poll, New Yorkers rejected high-stakes testing and the rest of the governor’s agenda by margins of better than two-to-one.

New Yorkers understand the difference between appropriate classroom tests that provide information to help students and teachers do better… and state standardized tests that fail to reflect that students, teachers and schools are anything but standardized.

They understand that what happens day in and day out in the classroom… and the nurturing relationship between teacher and student… is far more important than any fill-in-the-bubble test.

The question is: Why can’t Governor Cuomo understand that?  Or, why won’t he?

Karen Magee, a former elementary and special education teacher in Harrison, 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 necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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