Every year students across the country sit up straight, sharpen their pencils and gear up for the next round of standardized testing. Also to the point and running parallel, a conversion is always ensuing on what these tests actually mean and whether they are having the desired effect of turning out better students.
On the state level, for our local schools, certain requirements must be satisfied to remain in good standing. Of course, proficiency and participation across the board is part of the measurement for success, but demonstrating proficiency on the state assessments among subgroups such as English Language Learners, SpecialEd populations and those of lower socioeconomic standing also now requires elevated levels of accountability. For example, says Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, Drew Patrick of the Bedford Central School District, if all your students are by and large being proficient, but you’ve got one subgroup that isn’t, it counts against you.
As a result, school districts are more inclined to make sure all their students stay on the map. “Clearly,” says Somers School District Superintendent Dr. Joanne Marien, “there’s the opportunity to look at subpopulations within your population and make sure that all students – regardless of background – are performing equally.”
And that’s a clear upgrade, says Mr. Patrick. Being held to account in this regard by the Federal, “No Child Left Behind” Legislation of 2001, he says, it has really woken up a lot of school districts.
On the other hand, in a much less diverse school system such as Somers, the testing process doesn't return as much a cost/benefit ratio that would be preferable to Dr. Marien. "I think for a district like ours that consistently achieves at above an acceptable level, I'm not sure that all the time and the money and energy spent on testing each and every year is at all worthwhile,” she says.
Still, in a larger sense, she acknowledges the importance of having a bottom line standard in which schools and the educational system as a whole can measure themselves against. Additionally, she says, "I think the assessments help to unify the discussion and bring focus to the curriculum."
Nonetheless, going beyond the requirements is the stated goal in Somers, but rendering scores onto Caesar aside, it's obvious to ask what schools, students and parents get in return and settle some of the misconceptions that the tests generate for those of us who are concerned.
First of all, government funds for achievement is not among the return schools can expect. Only punitive actions await substandard results because, says Mr. Patrick, "You don't get anything for doing well - you're supposed to do well."
Primarily, though, the state assessments enable schools a more focused opportunity to determine where each student is and how to move forward with them in the present and near future. "For example,” says Mr. Patrick, “a student who's not proficient in mathematics - based on the state assessment - we're going to intervene in some way in response to the end of year results.”
Otherwise, if less than desired results occur across a consistent cross section of students or material, a larger adjustment can be made in response. "We're going to use that information to help find and fix the gaps in the curriculum," he says.
Of course, the straightforward logic that drives the process doesn't necessarily jibe so easily with a parentwho may easily fall prey to an evaluation that doesn't look so good in the real world. In response to these normal types of concerns, says Mr. Patrick, “I've always found through conversations with parents that when you explain it to them, it makes more sense and they better understand the actual role of these tests.”
In a similar light, a poor score doesn't necessarily have to raise any red flags for parents or even teachers, according to Mr. Patrick. With numerous other indicators to comprehensively evaluate student performance, he says, “We know when it's simply a student who’s had a bad day.”
It follows then that a single measurement like the state assessment would never solely be used to deny promotion, and for the teachers who might be inclined to be bogged down by the poor showing of his or her students, the same logic applies. "I think it does potentially impact teacher morale but what we've tried to do is say, 'If you know what to teach and how to teach it,'" he says, the results next time will more then likely fall where they should.
As for the public perception through the media, a lot less damage control is required of schools at this point, according to Mr. Patrick. Requiring a learning curve of its own, he says, “I think there was a time when the media would report school district results in a sensational manner but I think that's really died down significantly.”
And that helps give parents a more pragmatic perspective but the concern is still probably out there that schools are far too relegated to "teaching to the test." I think to a certain degree, he says in agreement, schools are forced to value this test disproportionately. On the other hand, he says, “The pendulum is swinging back a little where we are starting to feel more competent, and if we do what's right for the kids in teaching the curriculum in the rich way we do, the test will take care of itself.”
Nonetheless, he sees no reason that the state should be satisfied with the actual content of today's test, as yesterday becomes distant at a much faster pace than it once did. “There needs to be a real push at the state level to re-envision these tests to be more representative of the kind of thinking and skills that kids need to be a success in the future,” he says.
In Somers, Dr. Marien agrees. With much work still to be done, she concludes, We have to constantly push to make certain that the learning standards of these test assessments are reaching as high as they can.More Bedford/Katonah Stories http://katonah10536.blogspot.com/