After a decade of high-stakes standardized testing, a revolt is brewing. Many local parents and — more quietly — teachers don’t like the effect that constant test prep has had on our local schools. Such tests measure a narrow band of intelligence, and schools should diversify the curriculum to allow for more creativity and hands-on learning.
This year, Kingston, New Paltz and Rondout school boards have passed resolutions opposing high-stakes testing. The issue hasn’t been taken up by the Saugerties School Board, but the local education community has many fellow travelers. Some from Saugerties attended a recent roundtable in Kingston.
“Kingston has been a big driving force,” said a Saugerties elementary school teacher and parent. “And people are saying, ‘You know what? If New Paltz can do it, so can we.’”
Teachers were wary of giving their names for this story. We were also unable to reach Saugerties Superintendent Seth Turner for comment over the course of several weeks. Turner rarely responds to education-related inquiries from this newspaper.
Turner did speak openly on the subject at a recent meeting of the Ulster County School Boards Association held in New Paltz.
“What started a few years ago as a mild breeze of parents requesting that their children not participate in the assessments is about to become a tsunami,” Turner said. “At least locally, the PTAs are beginning to hold forums collectively to talk about what the value is of standardized testing, and there are form letters which we are beginning to receive.”
Cahill parent Jennifer Mangione is one of the founding members of the Saugerties group PACE (Parents Actively Committed to Education).
“As far as high-stakes testing goes, I believe the stress that these tests impose on our students and teachers are not worth the results of the tests that will not accurately measure our students’ knowledge,” she said. “In addition, these tests are yet another unfunded mandate that we cannot afford. I know there are many parents thinking about opting out of these tests and finding out their rights as parents to do just that.”
But the second teacher interviewed for this story said she was wary of what kind of message opting out might give to children in the district.
“What are my kids going to think? All of us have to do things in life that we don’t want to do, that we don’t necessarily look forward to,” she said. “If we opt our kids out, do they then think, ‘Look at that, my parents say I don’t have to take this test.’ And there are going to be tests in life that you have to take. I think it’s really a fine line.”
Teaching to the test
Saugerties teachers expressed concern over the way test-prep dominates an increasing share of class time.
“Just the elementary school band specifically, to have these children sit for an hour-and-a-half three days one week, three days the next week, really, I think puts a lot of undue pressure and time constraints on the teachers and the students,” said one teacher. “Because you’re trying to put the kids into a test mode, core curriculum can suffer as early as four weeks out. Deep down we know this is not helping education. It’s just making them sit for tests for hours and hours.”
A second teacher agreed.
“For a nine-year-old to have to sit there for 90 minutes and not be able to talk or ask for assistance, it goes against the behavioral development of a child,” she said. “It’s ridiculous.”
The tests also fail to take into account a student’s individuality, teachers have said.