With the controversy over standardized testing in public schools still at a rolling boil, some national and state politicians are publicly calling for a reduction in the amount of time devoted to them.
But what will that mean for local students in the Kingston City School District? That remains to be seen.
Though local advocates have been pushing back against the standardized tests and the nationwide Common Core curriculum for the past few years, a report last month by the Council of Great City Schools may have helped give the moment even more attention. In the two-year study of 66 of the country’s largest school districts, it was determined that between pre-K and 12th grade, the average American public school student takes 112.3 standardized tests, which averages out to around eight tests per year. In the eighth grade, not including test preparation and sample tests, student testing takes up 4.2 days of school, or around 2.3 percent of the entire school year.
In conjunction with the release of the Council of Great City Schools study, the U.S. Department of Education acknowledged its own complicity in the prevalence of standardized tests, and released an action plan which seeks to give students “fewer and smarter” assessments.
On the official White House Facebook page, President Barack Obama recalled his own education in public schools.
“When I look back on the great teachers who shaped my life, what I remember isn’t the way they prepared me to take a standardized test,” he said. “What I remember is the way they taught me to believe in myself, to be curious about the world, to take charge of my own learning so that I could reach my full potential, to inspire me … Learning is about so much more than filling the right bubble.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he agreed with the federal perspective, saying there was a need to “reverse the overemphasis on testing that has become the norm in too many of our schools.”
But locally there’s some skepticism that any change is around the corner. Jolyn Safron, a co-founder of local education advocacy group Kingston Action for Education (KAFE), said the timing of the announcement was suspect.
“I’ll start with my totally cynical perspective, and it’s that elections are coming up, and everyone is realizing that Common Core is a sinking ship, and they want to abandon the ship and try and figure out how to start saving face,” said Safron. “I want to be hopeful that there is some validity and genuineness behind them, but I feel that they’re just political gains. And time will tell, particularly in Gov. Cuomo’s case. We are in the state we are because of Gov. Cuomo with regards to the testing and the immense tie-in with the teacher appraisal system to this testing. And now for him to start saying, ‘We were wrong’ — well, yeah, we’ve been telling you that for a long time.”
Kingston City School District Superintendent Paul Padalino also questioned Cuomo’s statement.
“I’m not sure which side of the argument the governor is falling on sometimes,” he said. “The APPR [Annual Professional Performance Review] legislation with 50 percent of teachers’ evaluations being used through the state assessments, that’s his legislation. To then turn around and say standardized testing is out of control, those two things don’t make sense together.”
In addition to how the standardized tests are impacting students, opponents have also expressed concern about the influence standardized test results have on a teacher’s APPR. As Padalino noted, Cuomo’s office enacted a standard of 50 percent; in Kingston, the percentage is currently 20 percent while local teachers’ unions continue contract negotiations with the district.
“Is 50 percent too much? I’d say yes, 50 percent is too much,” said Padalino. “Is 20 percent too much? I don’t think it is. 80 percent of a teacher’s evaluation is based on what they do every day in the classroom, on observations from a building principal or building administrator. 20 percent, I think that’s fair.”
Padalino added that he believed the president’s perspective had been taken out of context.
“I think what the president was talking about was rote drill of test questions, and it was very skillfully, politically stated,” Padalino said, noting that students in public school districts like Kingston already spend fewer than two percent of their academic year taking standardized tests. “Currently in New York, we’re spending about 1 percent of the school year on testing. That’s not test prep, the actual testing of students. [In Kingston] none of our curriculum pacing involves test prep. Every day of school is preparation for meeting the standards, for meeting proficiency. Ninety-nine percent of our time is preparing our students to be assessed to see if they meet the standards, and one percent is spent assessing them.”
Safron said that public school students in the state are still over-tested.