Not all members want to sign onto FairTest’s National Resolution
By Jeanne Tao
Tabled at many meetings prior to the Garrison School Board’s meeting Wednesday, Feb. 20, was a resolution against the overwhelming amount of high-stakes testing mandated by government, brought to the board by members Anita Prentice and Theresa Orlandi, who along with Superintendent Gloria Colucci had attended a Nov. 8 presentation by the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest) through the Westchester-Putnam School Boards Association. The School Board argued Wednesday particularly over the use of test scores in teacher evaluation, with some board members wary of signing the resolution.
Prentice and Orlandi had recommended signing FairTest’s resolution (available at fairtest.org), which was created in collaboration with several organizations such as the National Education Association and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. The resolution opposes high-stakes standardized testing, whose scores are used to make major decisions affecting individual students, educators and schools, resolving to call on government leaders to “reduce the testing mandates,” among other things.
School Board President Raymond O’Rourke objected to the last resolution to “not mandate any fixed role for the use of student test scores in evaluating educators.” O’Rourke said it “would essentially eliminate the possibility [of using], or make it very difficult to use, any kind of standardized test for teacher evaluation. My own position on it is that a comprehensive set of teacher evaluations has to include some sort of quantitative measure, and that’s to be done on the basis of some sort of standardized test.”
Board Member Christine Foertsch agreed. “When I got to that line, I felt, ‘Well, I can’t quite say yes to that.’”
Prentice countered, “There’s nothing that says you’re going to get better teaching if you mandate a fixed role for the test scores.”
Foertsch argued, “I think that’s just the issue is that we don’t have data.” She said that even if they took out that last resolution, she could not support the resolution, because its reasoning is not proven by data. She said she has not seen evidence that “the overreliance on high-stakes testing is undermining educational quality,” but “there is tons of data on the efficacy of standardized testing in predicting everything.” She added, “We all have a feeling it’s going in a bad direction, and in four years we’ll have data that this was a terrible idea, but I just don’t think that we have that data.”
O’Rourke agreed with her. “The ‘whereases’ are highly conjectural; they don’t reflect the principles, the reality of the Garrison School.”
Foertsch and other board members did agree with O’Rourke’s idea to craft a resolution specific to the Garrison School (in addition to FairTest’s resolution or not), which he said he would be happy to do.
Prentice asked Colucci for her experience with the mandate to use test scores in teacher evaluation. Some of Colucci’s colleagues already implemented the teacher evaluation system last year because their contract negotiations took place then, and she said, “They are reporting that there’s a huge discrepancy” in who they and parents believe to be effective teachers and the evaluations that those teachers are receiving. “And the reverse is happening,” she added, in that some teachers considered by their supervisors to be less than effective received ratings as highly effective.
Orlandi argued, “It’s not just the high-stakes testing; it’s the ridiculous amount of testing that American students” must undergo, citing her own daughter’s experiences of testing (in a grade that does not even give state assessments yet) and fears that it is dampening her enthusiasm for school.
Parent Danielle Martinelli commented that she thinks the high-stakes testing is “way too frequent” and that if they are attached to teacher evaluations, “you are assuming that the tests have merit.”
The board will continue to reflect on the resolution over the next couple of weeks and vote on it at the next meeting.
In a comment to Philipstown.info after the meeting, O’Rourke noted that while he opposed the resolution as presented, he agreed that “there are still serious problems with how the current standardized test regime is paid for and how tests are prepared, administered and used to evaluate students and teachers, particularly with respect to high performing districts like Garrison.” He said he would attempt to draft his alternative resolution so that it “reflects the full range of the comments we heard Wednesday night for review and discussion at the next board meeting.”
Some stray thoughts regarding educational testing…
Part of the problem is that the practice of educational testing assumes the locus of the educational success resides with the teacher. That is: good scores are tantamount to good teaching and good schools. Bad scores equals bad teachers and bad schools. But is this true?
Shouldn’t the kid, the family, the environment, the opportunities and access to early literacy, summer enrichment, tutors, lessons, parental oversight and engagement get some credit for their scores?
It’s somewhat troubling and a little insulting to suggest that student achievement and the “data” of test scores is mainly the result of the teacher. And it seems ethically problematic to tie corporate profit (testing and publishing industry) and funding (state or tax levy) as well as teacher evaluation (even pay) to the scores, the labor, of children.
Instead, it would be a welcome change if enthusiasm for learning and student achievement based upon portfolio and performance were prized equally in these discussions. Yes, qualitative measures are harder to gauge, but in the end they reflect more roundly the very thing one is trying to evaluate.
I know that most love (and fetishize) quantitative measures. But learning is not often captured by such measures. In my experience, student learning outcomes are often the least interesting thing to measure in regards to the education of a child.
The continued desire to engage material and attachment to learning ought to be the ultimate measures of teaching effectiveness. They may not be easily quantifiable, but it doesn’t make them any less important of a measure.
As most parents and teachers know, one ought to start with humility. And, in the face of the rather complex process of mapping learning and teaching, to elevate the importance of standardized tests seems misguided and small, especially when the time and preparation that is afforded testing comes at the cost of content, scientific and artistic exploration, physical development, writing and the imagination.
As a parent, I just don’t know how much I’ve influenced my kid when I catch him past bedtime with a flashlight and a book. It’s his work, not mine, and for me or anyone else to claim some sort of ownership or credit for his work seems wrong, even if I am the one who bought the books and flashlight.
As a teacher, I know I’ve been wrong too often about who I may or may not have influenced and how. I believe I teach them one thing; they claim another. I think a student doesn’t have a chance, then the student surpasses all expectations. What I do know is that, when I am good, I allow for the opportunity and climate for the student to thrive. I set the tone, the expectations, and provide a probable or possible path and some support or advice, but that’s about it. Their failure and successes are theirs, their ingenuity and hard work are theirs, and it would be naive for me to claim otherwise.
If measurable learning outcomes are to be considered, let them be considered and crafted based upon the best research we have. However, let us not pretend that there aren’t more significant learning outcomes that aren’t measurable through other means. Moreover, let us not pretend that some learning outcomes are valued because they have no measure.