This week I was concerned by two news reports. The first concerns the new New York State standardized tests. Our children are taking the tests as I write this. But several people think the tests are different but not much better than the dysfunctional tests of the last few years and may be taking up an illegal amount of school time. See the press release from the NYS Allies for Public Education.
New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia seems not to get it. She says that opting out of the tests is not an answer. She says tests “help educators plan for the coming school year and develop individual learning for students. The tests are the only objective measures we have to compare student progress between schools and districts.” But, I question this. Standardized tests have been shown to sometimes be anything but objective. And claiming that it’s common for teachers to use them to plan classes is also questionable.
Test taking is its own sort of skill. In fact, some students have told me they like and do well on tests. That’s great. It means that as you proceed through the educational system, you will hopefully find success. Some forms of testing can be helpful when combined with a variety of assessment approaches. But whether doing well on standardized tests means you have more than a decontextualized knowledge of facts, or that you can apply the facts to solve problems or think critically, or do well on a job or real world situation, is another matter.
Opting out of tests is both a way to keep your children free from the testing mania and also is a way to make a political and social statement. So contrary to what Commissioner Elia states, I think it is a positive move to take.
Secondly, The Alliance for Quality Education in New York says that the “recently enacted New York State budget allows Resorts World Casino to withdraw $40 million annually from a fund that is supposed to be set aside to fund public schools.” Please read their whole press release. This is outrageous.
So, is the state of education in New York or the rest of the US improving? Certainly, more and more people are becoming aware of the problems with standardized testing and evaluating teachers based on those tests. Wonderful alternative methods of teaching are gaining traction (such as SEL, inquiry and project based learning, mindfulness instruction). But freeing public education from attacks by corporate or other interests, and establishing a more equitable, compassionate, proficient and engaging educational system has not shown much progress.
And: NY Assembly members Amy Paulin and Todd Kaminsky have proposed legislation to address some of these ills. Please read more about the proposed legislation.