Karen Magee: Parents, Educators Deserve Answers On Testing

Dec 1, 2016

High-stakes testing — and the over-testing of students — have been a point of conflict in New York State for several years now.

Along with my members at New York State United Teachers, I have been at the forefront of that debate … arguing that New York’s emphasis should be on teaching and learning and not on testing. Together with parents, NSYUT has stressed that schools should be reducing the testing pressure on students … and cutting the amount of time spent testing.

The backlash against over-testing — and the use of standardized tests for purposes they were never designed — led the Governor’s Common Core Task Force to last year recommend a reduction in student testing. NYSUT and parents cheered.

So, when the State Education Department said recently it planned to keep six days of standardized testing for students in third through eighth grade for the next two years — contrary to the Task Force recommendations — parents and educators pushed back. Hard!

To Chancellor Betty Rosa’s credit, she reacted immediately. She’s a good listener and she wants to continue a positive dialogue about how to make sure teaching and learning take precedence over testing. She said the Regents are open to reducing the number of test days in 2018. We applaud her for that openness to re-examining decisions. And, NYSUT is going to take her up on it. We’re going to continue to make our strong case for testing students only as much as absolutely necessary and not a minute more.

We have one goal in mind: Move New York away from high-stakes testing to a culture where student learning is paramount.

I’m not going to sugar coat this. Without question, I think the State Education Department misread the mood of parents and educators. There’s no dodging the reality that keeping six days of testing will renew interest in the opt-out movement. It’s a set-back to the Department’s efforts to win back the trust and confidence of parents.

What’s most frustrating is that S-E-D has stated no good rationale.

After all, New York educators are hard at work re-vamping the Common Core and improving our standards. In a few years, we’ll have New York standards for New York students developed by New York teachers.

The new standards mean that New York will have a re-designed testing system. Already, New York teachers are hard at work writing the test questions that will be used with the new standards on the new tests. We think that’s a good thing.

In addition, there is a four-year moratorium in place on the use of state test results for placing students or evaluating teachers. It begs the question: Why collect six days of test data when the tests have been discredited … are going to be changed … and are going to be aligned with a new set of New York standards? The comparative test score data S-E-D is seeking will, ultimately, be rendered meaningless as New York starts fresh.

Parents and educators deserve some answers.

In the mean-time, NYSUT is going to continue to press forward.

We’re going to continue to fight — along with parents — for a significant reduction in both the number of testing days and how, ultimately, test score data is used. And, we’re going to work positively with the Chancellor Rosa and S-E-D for what’s best for students.

Well-designed standardized tests, used for the right reasons, can help school districts better serve students and provide valuable information to parents about how well their children are progressing. Test data can help state leaders see the big picture and direct resources where they are needed most.

But, six days of standardized testing is a case of too much ... for too long … for too little.

Karen E. Magee is president of the 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.

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