As a seasoned educator, I strongly believe that well-designed tests are a valuable educational tool. When used properly, tests provide timely feedback about student progress. Rather than adding to the diagnostic value of tests, however, the NYS Common Core assessments are used solely to rank students, evaluate teachers and label schools as “failing,” slating them for takeover by privately run charters.
One need only understand that the results of these tests are released months after students have moved to the next grade. Parents cannot see an itemized breakdown of how their children performed, because the content of the test remains a closely guarded secret. There is no transparency. Thus, unlike traditional tests, the information generated is completely useless to the parent and child. Without the ability to analyze how students answered the questions, educators are not able to use them to drive instruction or shape pedagogy.
Although testing companies work hard to make sure the content of exams remains embargoed, some information that has been gleaned is cause for great concern. Questions are ambiguous; there are often questions with multiple correct answers and others with no correct answer. The readability of the tests is often two or three grade levels higher than a student’s typical development. The passing rates are set after the test is taken. (That’s how former education commissioner John King was able to accurately predict that 70 percent of students would fail the exam months before they were administered.) These reports, if accurate, underscore the limited (if any) value that these tests provide to the educational system.
Research has consistently shown that standardized tests are more indicative of students’ Zip codes than of their level of achievement. Lower test scores are a symptom — not the cause — of inequality. School districts, including here on the East End, serve children who live in poverty, have special needs or are not native speakers. It should be expected that these factors will contribute toward overall lower test scores than in areas with smaller percentages of children in such circumstances — not the teachers who fill their classrooms. Certainly, there are examples of numerous students overcoming these economic challenges and, similarly, there are students in wealthier school districts who struggle with class work. However, socioeconomic factors are critically important in driving overall achievement.
I am proud of the education I received in Greenport public schools and I am also proud that my children reside in this district. What takes place in the halls of our community’s school cannot be quantified by a test. Yet as a result of the demographic makeup, our school, its teachers and the district itself will have a far greater risk of sanctions than a school that is wealthier.
Since the NYS Common Core tests provide none of the valuable feedback of a proper test and seemingly disregard all the unique factors that contribute to the complexity of a particular district or region, I have concluded that if my children took these tests I would be complicit in the loss of local control leading to the possible erosion of public education here in Greenport.
My children are vessels to be filled; they are not commodities and will not be used as pawns to create market share for charter schools.
Thus, after much consideration, the only recourse left is to withhold consent. My children will be refusing these exams.
Gregory Wallace is a former News-Review Educator of the Year. He’s also an East Marion Fire Department volunteer.