Southold School District

Southold school board calls for student assessment overhaul

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Southold school board president Paulette Ofrias, left, and Superintendent David Gamberg during Wednesday night's meeting. Ms. Ofrias read a resolution
JENNIFER GUSTAVSON PHOTO | Southold school board president Paulette Ofrias, left, and Superintendent David Gamberg during Wednesday night’s meeting. Ms. Ofrias read a resolution explaining why the school district is against current student assessment methods.

The Southold school board approved a resolution Wednesday night calling on state and federal officials to overhaul the current method of standardized testing tied to teacher evaluations.

The resolution is addressed to key officials responsible for the state-mandated annual professional performance review plans, known as APPR, including Governor Andrew Cuomo and state Education Department Commissioner John King, as well as the state legislature and Board of Regents. The school board is asking the state to “reexamine” the APPR plan and create a system “based on multiple forms of assessment” as opposed to “extensive standardized testing,” according to the resolution.

The school board is also calling on Congress to “overhaul” the No Child Left Behind Act, legislation created under former President George W. Bush’s administration that mandates public schools to measure “adequate yearly progress” through the use of student test scores.

“Our nation’s school systems have been spending growing amounts of time, money and energy on high-stakes standardized testing, in which student performance on standardized tests is used to make major decisions affecting individual students, educators and schools,” the school board’s resolution states. “The Southold Board of Education supports educational accountability in public schools, but believes that the current over-emphasis on standardized testing has caused considerable collateral damage in our schools, including reducing instructional time, narrowing the curriculum, increasing student stress, reducing love of learning and teaching, and driving excellent teachers out of the profession.”

The school board voted 3-0 to approve the resolution, which Superintendent David Gamberg plans to send a copy to state and federal officials. Scott DeSimone and Scott Latham were absent from the meeting.

In June, the Riverhead school board passed a similar resolution encouraging state and federal regulators to cut back on the overreliance of standardized testing.

Mr. Gamberg described the action as a method to inform policy makers that the district believes “the current trend of overtesting” is having a negative impact on schools.

“At bare minimum, it’s on the record,” he said about the adopted resolution. “If anyone were to do an investigation of how many Boards of Education are saying this, they would find Southold.”

The Southold school board’s action comes a few weeks after the state released the 2012-13 school year’s math and English Language Arts assessments students in grades 3 through 8 took in April. The results showed a significant drop in test scores compared to the previous school year.

For the first time, the math and ELA assessments included elements of what’s known as the Common Core State Standards Initiative. The Common Core is a new set of national standards designed to raise the bar for classroom instruction and help “prepare students for college and careers in the 21st century,” state officials say. The initiative primarily requires instructors to teach more non-fiction and more rigorous math to students at a younger age.

In Southold, 65.2 percent of students failed to meet the state’s math proficiency standard and 64.4 percent failed to meet the ELA standard. Statistics statewide for New York schools in which students took the assessments showed 69 percent failed to meet proficiency levels in math and 68.9 percent in ELA. School districts in Suffolk County generally fared better than the state overall, with 66.8 percent failing math and 63.7 percent failing ELA.

The results of the new assessments, which are significantly lower compared to the previous school year, are also expected to be tied to the APPR plan. This teacher evaluation requirement originated in 2010 after New York was awarded a grant of nearly $700 million under the federal Race to the Top program. For individual school districts to qualify for part of the grant, the state required each to implement its own APPR program this year.

“This won’t stop of us from doing the good work that we have been doing and we will continue to do for students,” Mr. Gamberg said about the state mandates.

Mr. Gamberg also said he doesn’t believe any New York school district is against accountability and coming up with new ways to make sure students are career and college ready upon graduation.

“Everyone wants that,” he said. “How you get there is another story.”

Scroll down to read the resolution.

Southold school board meeting agenda, Aug. 29, 2013.