This was a guest editorial featured in the Tri-Town News, in Sidney, NY. I have Stephen “Spike” Paranya’s permission to share it with you here.
The following was a speech delivered by Spike Paranya at the Induction Ceremony for the National Honor Society at the Sidney High School. Spike is a retired Sidney Elementary School Principal.
Public Education Has Been Hijacked by
The Testing Craze
Good evening everyone – students, parents, and Sidney CSD staff. While I would like to thank you, the members of the National Honor Society, for inviting me here to speak to you tonight, I want to thank you all the more for being who you are – young men and women who bring satisfaction and joy to your parents and teachers through your achievements in school and beyond. I would especially like to emphasize the positive effects you have, as honor students, on your teachers, because, right now, the teachers in our district, our BOCES, our state and our country need positive reinforcement more than ever before.
Why? Because in today’s educational world, public education has been hijacked by our country’s political/corporate leaders and has resulted in something I know you are all familiar with, the testing movement, or I might say, the testing craze. I’m sure you are familiar with the amount of testing you and your younger brothers and sisters now experience. Tonight I would like to give you a few of my beliefs on this topic as an educator of over forty-five years, beliefs I feel I share with a majority of America’s top educators.
First, let me state that I am a believer in testing as a means to improve the education of all students and to help teachers in this process. Used properly, tests and their results let teachers and students know about the learning strengths and weaknesses of students. Testing also rewards students who do well. In doing so they also let teachers know what they need to do to improve students’ academic weaknesses. This is where the role of testing lay until about 2002. That is when politicians and not educators took over control of our educational philosophy. Congress passed a bill, proposed by President Bush, called No Child Left Behind that made testing mandatory for students in grades three through eight. In their ignorance of the educational process, they decided that the best way to improve American education was to increase testing and make students and teachers accountable for student achievement, especially if it was below average. Very simple, improve test scores and Americans will be more successful and able to compete internationally. And so the acceleration of testing began. President Obama has now made this situation worse with Race to the Top, a program that essentially states if you don’t do what we politicians demand you don’t get federal funds for your state. This program further increases the amount, importance, and pressure of testing and links student achievement with teacher evaluation, a process that has many important flaws.
Lets look at what has happened in the last ten years since the No Child Left Behind bill was passed by Congress. We have seen a change from a system that rewards achievement to one that concentrates on punishing students, teachers, administrators and schools who do not achieve goals set for them. Often these goals are not realistic or possible to achieve. No Child Left Behind demanded that all students be proficient in reading by 2014. With one year to go, we are nowhere near achieving that goal and probably never will. But remember, this goal was set by politicians and not educators. Many students who do poorly on tests now drop out of school when they reach high school discouraged by constant failure and boredom. We know students learn in different ways and at different rates. We also know there are many successful people who were poor test takers. Appropriate education for all and not test scores alone leads to success.
Not every school district is equally affected by testing. It is mainly the urban schools and smaller, more rural school districts that have problems. Wealthy school districts have continued to be less affected although that too is changing. With more money to spend on education and fewer students who are economically deprived they can spend less time preparing for tests and continue to offer important enriching activities. Testing as it is presently administered does not offer equal opportunity for all students in our country.
In reality, test scores, as a measure of student or school success is a flawed concept. First of all, evaluation by test scores has generally not been shown to result in any significant improvement in student math and reading ability. True, students in the lower grades studying for the tests and high school students studying past SAT and ACT tests, do show improvement, sometimes great improvement, when they take the real test but when tested by methods unfamiliar to them, they show little or no gain. This result has been seen time and time again across the United States. High stakes testing has also led to widespread cheating and falsifying test scores by some teachers and administrators due to the pressure of needing high test scores to keep their jobs or to keep their schools open. These days when you hear about schools making remarkable improvements in test scores one must view these results with skepticism.
What is significant about studying for tests is that it takes time away from instruction that can be more creative, exciting and beneficial to true student learning and achievement. It has resulted in a reduction of the teaching of science and social studies. It has resulted in a reduction of the teaching of the arts including literature, music, art, and drama, which have been shown to improve student learning. Most important is the fact that it has taken away much of the joy and comfort of school for students, especially those in the lower grades, and for teachers as well.
How has the New York state testing program state affected teachers? Teachers teach best when they are free to be creative, caring, stimulating, student centered, relaxed and proud of their work. Presently, they no longer have time to teach this way and worry that teaching outside the test areas may lower their students test scores and result in a lower evaluation for them as teachers. This leads to boredom in the classroom as well as fear of failure for teachers and students alike. When fear takes over it is hard for teachers to teach and students to learn. While teachers are very familiar with this problem, there is now an undercurrent of discontent among parents with the over emphasis on testing. Last week I attended a meeting in Oneonta of local parents exploring their right to opt out of state testing for their children (google: opt out new york). On Long Island over 2000 students have already opted out of taking state tests. It seems the number of students opting out of state tests will only grow in the next few years as parents learn this is possible. This is not a good thing either because, as I’ve said before, testing properly done is extremely helpful to teachers in guiding the learning of students.
What does this mean for all of you? Well, if you plan to become a teacher, don’t be discouraged. This paralyzing emphasis on testing will hopefully not last and will likely be seen as a disaster created by politicians and corporate leaders in the future. If you have a younger brother or sister, take the responsibility to give them learning enrichment they no longer get in school such as going to museums, concerts, and watching educational programs on television with you about science and history. If you become a parent, and most of you will, take responsibility for providing educational activities for your children from the time they are born. And remember, you are or soon will be in a position to make your opinion heard. By voting and knowing the issues that affect education in your local schools, in New York, and in the United States you can make a positive difference for our future schools. And finally, remember your teachers. They work hard and want every student to succeed in their studies. When you come to school tomorrow, give a teacher a hug. They will appreciate being appreciated!
Retired Sidney Elementary Schools Principal