My family has recently taken an important step regarding the education of our children: our third-grader will not be participating in the New York State Assessments in ELA or math this spring. This decision was reached with much thought and research, along with our own experience as educators playing a major role.
Last school year, my son brought home a benchmark test from his kindergarten class. This packet was clearly a mass-produced exam tailored to prepare for standardized tests. This school year, I have seen a parade of these same practice tests in both of my children's take-home folders.
I do not blame their teachers one iota; these fine, caring educators are just following expectations set by school administration. My children have had excellent teachers, but the current reform movement has forced their hands and made these resourceful teachers into test preparation instructors. I know they, like many of my own colleagues, would like to have more lessons that involve creativity and critical thinking, but their hands are tied by the system.
We are taking this necessary opt-out step because we know that standardized testing is harming public education. Some people may say that these exams are "just a test," but as an educator I can say that administrators over the last several years have emphasized raising ELA and math test results as the paramount objective for our schools. The high-stakes exam has become the primary focus of public education. When I hear elementary teachers in my children's school state, "when we have time, we will squeeze in social studies and science," I cringe.
High-stakes testing proponents claim these exams are vital tools for assessing our children and their teachers. I do not need a test to determine if my children are progressing with their education. By simply listening to them read regularly and checking their work, I can establish their strengths and weaknesses. My children's teachers can conclude if they need extra reading or math assistance within a few weeks from the start of the school year. We do not need the expensive testing systems to make that determination.
Like any other parent, I want the best teachers for my children. I do not need a test score to determine the quality of my children's teachers or school. I know the teachers my kids have had at their public school are highly effective. I look for an educator who is caring, creative, organized and communicates well with parents.
Some of the practice exams my children have taken prove that using state tests to determine if our teachers are doing a good job is unreliable. Many times they have received a three or even the maximum score of a four, but on occasion they dropped to a two. If my kids happen to have a bad day of testing during a small snapshot of time, does that prove that they need academic assistance and that the teachers are ineffective?
We need to return to a system where parents and teachers are involved in educational decisions and remove the corporate reformers and politicians from our schools. My children's district is facing drastic budget cuts to vital programs in the arts, and class sizes will soar because we are spending scarce financial resources on standardized testing and expensive data systems.
I will not expose my children to the pressure to perform on a meaningless exam that is not required for promotion or graduation. My children are human beings and not a piece of data or number from one to four.
Chris Cerrone, of Springville, is a social studies teacher at Hamburg Middle School who opposes high-stakes testing.