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High Stakes Testing

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To The Editor:

I am confident that if you polled your best teachers, they would tell you that the current obsession with high-stakes testing is neither healthy nor beneficial to the education of our children. Saranac Lake is only the most recent and closest school to ours that has voiced their concern. Many others have done so. It is time for the our school board to do the same.

In the next two weeks, our 8 to 14 year-old children will be subjected to 9 hours of high-stakes testing. It will literally bring some to tears.

For a little perspective:

■ The LSAT for Law School admissions takes 2.9 hours plus a 35 minute writing sample.

■ The NYPD Officer Written Exam designed to measure the cognitive ability, observational skills, and mental acuity of applicants to the NYPD takes one hour and 30 minutes to complete.

■ The Series 7 exam, which licenses stockbrokers, is a six hour test.

■ The American Board of Dermatology certification exam is eight hours long, but that includes breaks.

Over 1,500 New York state principals have signed a position paper opposing the use of high stakes testing for teacher evaluations, and they have put forth a paper raising serious concerns with high stakes testing all together.

Our educational system is being hijacked by corporate interests, textbook manufacturers, and computer/software companies such as Pearson, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and McGraw-Hill (parent company of Standard & Poors, often associated with the recent sub-prime mortgage debacle). As pointed out by New York Times columnist Gail Collins, “We have turned school testing into a huge corporate profit center.”

As I’m sure you are aware, the state recently sent updates for the planned transition to online, computer-based tests that are scheduled to begin in the 2014-2015 school year. These updates from the state included information and spreadsheets to determine whether the school has enough computers and technology infrastructure (Internet bandwidth) to administer these new, computerized, online tests.

The public needs to know how many new computers will be required in order to administer multiple tests (English, Math, etc) to hundreds of students - tests that are projected to last at least 8 to 10 hours per student.

What Internet connection speed will be required for our district? What is our current capacity, and what costs will be associated with upgrading that capacity? In this era of reduced school funding, when many, if not most, districts in the area are facing financial (and educational) bankruptcy, how can we justify more computers and faster Internet connections while we’re cutting teachers and programs.

I have educational concerns about these changes as well. Are our children prepared with the necessary keyboarding skills to complete short answer questions and extended essays or will they be hunting and pecking while on the clock? Will they be provided a second monitor so that they will have access to the articles they are writing about? Or will they be bouncing between windows as they try to “find the answer?”

The current Commissioner of Education, paid consultants, and the state education bureaucracy claim that the tests are “authentic” and grade level. As an educator and parent who has seen samples recently provided by the state, I can assure you they are neither.

Education is about nurturing children. It requires individualized attention to the specific needs of each student. Over testing is not the answer.

I urge you to act. Send the state a message and let them know that you are not going to enable their misdirected efforts. Allow parents the opportunity to do what they know is best for their own children and not what “the state” mandates. Let them opt out of the tests. Take back local educational control.

For more information and a variety of views on current educational issues, I suggest you visit The Answer Sheet at the WashingtonPost.com.

Tom French

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