Tests not doing the job

While testing of students is mandated, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future, one local school superintendent maintains that high scores on those tests aren’t necessarily a sign that real learning is taking place in the classroom.
Southold Superintendent David Gamberg so strongly believes that test scores don’t render a full picture of student achievement that he opted out of the competition for federal Race to the Top funds, which would have netted his district only about $14,000 over a four-year period, he told Board of Education members at their work session Oct. 13.
To chase that bit of money by enhancing the focus on test results would have compromised the pursuit of excellence in education, he said.
During the work session, Mr. Gamberg showed a brief trailer from a YouTube video, “The Race to Nowhere,” demonstrating the increased pressure on students to perform well on tests.
He also pointed to a book by former assistant secretary of education Diane Ravitch, “The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education.” Ms. Ravitch maintains that testing is narrowing the curriculum and resulting in more cheating and “gaming” of the system, Mr. Gamberg said. It also erodes local control of public education, he added.
“The primary challenge is to see if we have taught our children to use their minds well,” Mr. Gamberg said. That means making students critical thinkers, adept users of technology and informed consumers with a sense of responsibility to their families and community, he said.
Board member Judi Fouchet said students need to be encouraged to accept mistakes and use them as a learning tool.
To improve the educational experience for Southold students, board members and Mr. Gamberg want to survey graduates to find out how well prepared they were for the world they faced upon graduation. A concerted effort to get e-mail addresses from alumni and graduating seniors will be undertaken, he said.
The superintendent wants to identify gaps in achievement and address ways to improve the educational experience while controlling spending, he said.
Mr. Gamberg proposed establishing voluntary panels of teachers to assess students beyond what test data reveals. He has previously suggested that students collect portfolios that represent what they have learned from the time they enter school to the time they leave the district.
Ms. Fouchet said she was suspicious of an increased emphasis on substituting charter schools for under-performing public schools. She said she suspected the policy results from legislators who may have made investments in privatizing education, she said. Instead of improving the public school, it’s a way of taking the public education system down, she said.
Mr. Gamberg said global competition is real, and related an African proverb about how gazelles wake up each morning knowing they must run to avoid being killed by lions while lions wake up knowing they must catch gazelles to survive.
Whether you’re a gazelle or a lion, Mr. Gamberg said, “When the sun comes up, you better be running.”
His goal, he told board members, is to examine everything the district does in terms of its effect on improving educational excellence.
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