Teacher decries state tests

Social studies teacher Ron McEvoy with some of his students in a photo taken in 2004, when he was named Suffolk Times Educator of the Year. This year, he’s arguing against persistent testing of students and calling critics of Greenport ‘elitists.’

A Greenport Junior-Senior High School teacher decried the state’s student testing requirements and told members of the Board of Education last Wednesday he was frustrated by having to defend the district against “elitists” on the East End.

“I am so frustrated that I’ve got eighth-grade kids in gymnasiums” taking tests, said social studies department chief Ronald McEvoy. “Testing doesn’t mean anything.”

Prior to the meeting, Mr. McEvoy said he knew how his students were performing and resented having to “teach to the test” to assure that his students pass. “I want to teach children; I want them to learn,” he said, not prepare them for standardized tests.

He gave board members a copy of an article that appeared in this month’s National Education Association newsletter entitled, “Stop the Madness,” which is critical of No Child Left Behind legislation. In it, author Diane Ravitch, a New York University professor and former assistant secretary of education, writes that the legislation imposes unnecessary burdens on students and teachers. Its goal of assuring 100 percent proficiency among all students, regardless of special needs or language difficulties, is a recipe for “the demolition of public education,” according to Ms. Ravitch, who says there’s no evidence that low-performing schools can be turned around by requirements contained in NCLB mandates.

“I’m tired of saying we’re good” and having to justify Greenport to other parts of the East End, Mr. McEvoy said. Before speaking out to the board, he referred in an interview specifically to Oysterponds, which sends its seventh- through 12th-graders to Greenport but has been critical of the school there.

“I don’t want elitists to taint my beautiful Greenport students,” Mr. McEvoy told the board. In his 43 years of teaching, he said, “Every kid in Greenport was valued.”

Referring to a 2008 Oysterponds report that was critical of Greenport and some of its teachers, including himself, Mr. McEvoy said its findings were unjust. He bragged about his students, saying some who are bilingual have assisted him in communicating with students in his classes who initially spoke no English.

“How awesome is that?” he asked.

“I buried three kids this year,” the educator added, referring to three former Greenport students who died in motor vehicle accidents. “Their SAT scores were not on their caskets,” he said, but the importance of their lives was demonstrated by the community’s outpouring of grief. “The impact of their losses was great,” he said.

The 2008 report, produced by a task force that included current Oysterponds board president Deborah Dumont, is very much on the minds of people in both districts. Some residents wonder if Ms. Dumont and two other newly elected board members will push to send secondary school students to Mattituck rather than Greenport.

In a telephone interview Monday morning, Ms. Dumont said making any decision soon “would be shortsighted on our part. We want the best possible education for our children and we want to be fiscally responsible,” she said.

The Oysterponds board is discussing a hastily reached decision it made in June, just before some board members’ terms expired, to extend its three-year contract with Greenport for two more years. That was the work of former board president Walter Strohmeyer, who sponsored the resolution to extend the contract, although the district was only one year into the original three-year contract.

Ms. Dumont said in July that she thought the June contract extension was illegal because three of the members who voted on it were lame ducks who wouldn’t be on the board in July. But the newly reconstituted board delayed action on Ms. Dumont’s resolution to afford district taxpayers an opportunity to weigh in on the issue.

“I see it as an opportunity, not a criticism,” Ms. Dumont said about reopening contract negotiations with Greenport.

Oysterponds board member Linda Goldsmith, who was at last week’s Greenport meeting, said, “As a grandmother, Greenport’s the kind of school I want my grandchildren to be in.” Her daughter is a teacher at the Greenport school.

Ms. Goldsmith also asked the Greenport board about the possibility of exploring a middle school that might include students in grades five, six and seven. She said she had heard some rumblings in Orient and East Marion about the idea, but that no one had yet brought it to the board for discussion.

Southold is beginning the process of forming a middle school, which will include both small group and individual instruction and advisory sessions that will let teachers interact more closely with students who are deemed to need more emotional support than they get in the typical junior-senior high school structure.

[email protected]