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.”