There was a time when elementary schools administered standardized tests in rational time increments. If it can even be remembered, the periodic shut down of the school was hardly even about assessing the individual students. “It was more to assess the curriculum and how the school district was doing,” says Dr. Jere Hochman, Superintendent of the Bedford Central School District in taking some time with me to discuss the educational state of the BCSD today.
In contrast, it doesn’t take an advanced degree to recognize that all the resources devoted to high stakes testing amounts more to a disorder or masshysteria than a vehicle to improve education. “It’s testing gone wild,” says Hochman.
From 3rd to 8th grade and in every subject, it’s all about assigning standing to a school or student – largely devoid of anything else other than a score. “If you can’t put a number on it, it doesn’t count,” he says.
As a result, the educational approach skews toward measuring up to state standards. “We spend far too much time testing kids,” he says.
With that in mind, Bedford is making an effort to assess the damage. “Right now we are in the middle of figuring out ourselves as a school district. What the impact is of focusing on doing well on standardized tests, and what are we giving up in our curriculum,” says Hochman.
As for all those voicing a recourse, he says it’s falling on deaf ears at the federal level. In Albany, it’s not much better. “They would say they are trying to address it by coming up with more authentic tests,” says Hochman.
In other words, less filling in the blanks and more problem solving to demonstrate what students are actually learning.
No matter the value of that, special education mandates provide another challenge to schools – especially when some state regulations are out of date. “The government is well aware – whether they are going to do much remains to be seen,” he says.
That said, Bedford does it’s best to keep up and he hopes it’s not taking away from one area to assign to another. “We just want the piece to be big enough so we can work with everybody, and that’s what we’ve hopefully been able to accomplish,” says Hochman.
Of course, he’s the first to tell you it gets tougher every year. A $5.2 million dollar budget gap clearly spells this out and runaway pensions aren’t making anything better. “Pensions used to have a 1-2% yearly increase,” he says. “That now has moved into the double digits.”
In turn, the district prioritizes to make up the gap. “We try to work from the classroom out, and at the same time, pay attention to thedaily operations that keep the district running,” he says.
That of course includes security and those numbers are obviously going to change. The district is working with a security firm that has been auditing school systems for twenty years, has sent out questionnaires to parents, made several immediate changes and gathered feedback from staff. “Everything will be turned over to our safety committee, and they’ll come up with a list of recommendations, which will be taken under advisement,” he says.
On the upside, school population is mostly keeping pace with infrastructure. “We’re seeing a slight drop but nothing dramatic that would cause us to have to close a building or change how we use buildings,” says Hochman.
And the area being home to a large immigrant population, diversity doesn’t present a challenge. Kids are still kids – they get along,” he says, and “they grow up with a respect and an understanding.”
Still when language becomes a hindrance for students who call English their second language, testing obviously reveals the problem, but doesn’t necessarily correctly classify learning ability. “It can be downright unfair,” says Hochman.
That said, the district does what it can to make up the difference and encourages families to connect with organizations like Neighbors Link to ease the problem. “The community has stepped up to provide one on one help for students and parents,” he says.
All in all, the standardized tests regime does show Bedford to be in “good standing” with respect to achieving “adequate yearly progress.” Given that 98% of graduates go onto two or four year college, AP course participation continues to climb, special programs enable the schools to keep students within Bedford’s walls and ESL students are making steady progress in their acquisition of language and academic achievement, “adequate” would have to be considered an understatement.
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My article originally appeared at : www.westchesterguardian.com/Lozenge3.html