Students in New York must pass five exams to graduate from high school. In the mid-1990s, former state education commissioner Thomas Sobel granted 28 alternative schools (serving 16,000 students) an exemption from most state tests that permitted more innovative curriculum and teaching.
Last night, Sobel was the final speaker in the 5th Annual Distinguished Educators series held at Pace University's downtown campus. Filled with teachers just entering the profession the room was ripe with a feeling that standardized testing is flawed.
Sobel spent much of the time breaking down some of the finer points of the NCLB Act. He started by reminding the audience that the Federal Government's hold on education was almost abolished during the 1980's.
He congratulates legislators for recognizing the inherent benevolent ideas behind the NCLB. He holds that logically if the intent of the act was good, and parents and the public in polls support the act, then the act must be appropriate. He quickly responds to his own assertions though and challenged the audience, "Why then is there a growing uproar? Why the backlash from educators?"
Sobel's dialogue continued as he broke apart MYTHS that the NCLB are founded upon:
- Public schools are failing
- We don't know who is being left behind
- Setting standards will improve instruction
Results are a matter of will
- We (as in all of America) know exactly what to teach
- Our measurements are accurate and fair
- Good education means good test scores
- Annual progress is possible
- The present forms of schooling will remain the same
- Whatever the problems schools can fix them
- The less you know, the smarter you become (further away from the classroom you are the more qualified you are to set National Standards)
- Academic achievement is all that matters
Current NYS Education Commissioner, Rick Mills believes that all students, without exception, should take every test. Mills has turned New York's public schools into one of the most test-driven systems in the US.
Mills has been battling the alternative schools--now organized as the New York Performance Standards Consortium--for years and may have the upper hand as the exemptions handed out by Sobel are set to expire.
Consortium schools now have the backing of the chairmen of the education committees in both the State Assembly and the Senate Education, so the stage is set for what might be test of Mills' draconian rule as the biggest test-pusher this side of George W. Bush.
Sobel continued with yet another list of WHAT DO WE (as educators) DO ABOUT THESE MYTHS?
- Emphasize depth as well as breathe
- Assess progress in multiple ways
- Reduce Testing
- Seek quality, not uniformity
- Hold all accountable
- Provide funding
- Develop teacher capacity
- Remember the longer agenda
For more on the NY Performance Standards Consortium see: resisting the tyranny of tests.