Tuesday, June 5, 2012

So What About Those Field Tests?

I received an email on Friday from a parent with some important questions about the administration of “field tests” to our students. He was interested in my opinion of the recent parent push back toward these tests as well as parents who are choosing to “opt out” of these tests for their children.
I thought I would share my thoughts and responses to him in light of the growing discourse around the issue since there is lots of chatter and questions in Dobbs Ferry and the surrounding towns over these past few days.

Dear Dobbs Ferry Parent:

The parent push back toward standardized testing is directed in a large part (at this particular time) at the administration of field tests by Pearson Inc. It is also important to note that we have Dobbs Ferry parents who are part of a consortium of parents from all of the Rivertown schools as well as parents from many other districts in Rockland, Westchester and Long Island who have organized to lobby Albany about unfunded mandates in schools as well as standardized testing. All of these district parent groups have posted the same petition on their websites calling for parents to sign the petition related to field tests and increased time and emphasis on standardized tests in general. Their intention is to send these petitions to Albany and make their voices heard as parents and constituents.

Since you have asked for my opinion as the Dobbs Ferry superintendent I am happy to share it with you. I believe that standardized tests in their current form are a waste of valuable instructional time and provide useless information when used in isolation which is how they are used by the New York State Department of Education. The fact that we are required to waste further instructional time on "field tests" which will be used to construct additional meaningless tests is, in my opinion, appalling. I am certainly not against standardized tests. In fact, I am a strong supporter of quality assessment practices designed to allow our students to demonstrate what they know and understand. The issue lies in the fact that the standardized tests currently administered do not do this in any way. The current tests are designed to provide a measurement that is cheap and easily scored by Pearson. Hence, the field tests do certainly provide Pearson with the information they need to produce more shallow assessments with limited usefulness to teachers in their work with curriculum design and addressing student needs.

As for having a positive bearing on our kids, I can't imagine anything positive for our kids about assessment practices in their current form. A much better measurement would include shorter, more frequent formative assessments that are performance based and would provide teachers with ongoing feedback so that they can make continued instructional adjustments based on the needs of individual students. These can certainly be standardized and could be used in an aggregate way to provide the kind of teacher accountability that all of us would like to see.

Boycotting "
field tests" would not have any effect on student classroom grades however we, like most schools, certainly use student performance on standardized tests as one measure when looking to place students in programs. This is always done in conjunction with teacher recommendations and other internal assessment measures. This does not apply to field tests since we do not receive feedback about field test performance by individual student. Feedback about performance on field tests sometimes is only used by the testing company and is never even shared with districts. 

Boycotting standardized tests that are not considered field tests could certainly have negative impact on our schools, our scores and the scores used as part of the new teacher evaluation process. These tests are similarly flawed but ramifications for boycotting them is more complicated for all involved. This would really need to be better researched and I believe that the parent consortium advocacy groups will more than likely explore this.

I think that parents questioning and voicing their concerns is really important at this moment in time. Unfortunately, the New York State Department of Education is not interested in the voices of professional educators and many of the issues associated with this have been created by the educators themselves. Nonetheless, it is critical that we stand up for the education of our children and advocate for classrooms where instruction is dynamic, student centered, innovative and not a "test prep" laboratory designed to "get kids ready for the test."

So ……there you have it. This is what I think and I applaud our Dobbs Ferry parents and all parents who are beginning to organize and make their voices heard in Albany and across our communities. It is time we spent our time and efforts working toward quality assessment practices. It is what is best for our kids, our teachers and our schools.