Standardized tests are here to stay and Scarsdale teachers and administrators are not pleased. On Thursday May 10th, the Scarsdale Middle School PTA held a panel discussion to address how Scarsdale can maintain their curriculum and high teaching standards while implementing these state mandated tests.
The discussion was moderated by middle school principal Michael McDermott and included panelists Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, Superintendent Michael McGill, and Trudy Moses, a Greenacres teacher and president of the Scarsdale Teacher’s Association. A representative from the New York Department of Education was invited but declined to attend.
Scarsdale administrators assert that the district maintains the highest teaching standards and that Scarsdale students are critical thinkers and problem-solvers who are excited and enthusiastic about learning. The panelists said that the teachers in Scarsdale are held in the highest regard and claimed that the district gets results.
The panelists drew on their perspectives as a lawmaker, administrator and teacher to argue that the state and national tests undermine the foundation of a Scarsdale education. Testing also incurs a financial cost to the school. Dr. McGill estimates that testing costs the district $800,000 per year and results in several lost school days when teachers give the tests and grade them.
Panelists discussed why state mandated tests are bad for Scarsdale as well as other districts. The tests are written to insure that students statewide master a uniform core curriculum. However, McGill contends that the tests don’t really help prepare students, but rather show them how to master these particular tests. Without representation on the state task force for education that creates the tests, Scarsdale is powerless to impact what should be taught or tested.
The state also wants to use the test results to ensure quality teaching and root out poor performing teachers. However, the Scarsdale administration believes that they already have a strong system in place to flag teachers who need help and guidance, or should be dismissed. Since Scarsdale teachers do not teach to these tests, results are not an indicator of teacher success in the classroom.
According to the district, there are currently two groups of state tests—the grade level assessments and the Regents content tests. All told there are 18 state tests not counting the Regents administered in any given year in the Scarsdale school system.
*The ELA (English Language Arts) one test per grade from grade three through grade 8.
*Math—one test from grade three through grade eight.
*Science- Written and Science Performance—Grade 4 and Grade 8
*English Limited Learners assessment
*Alternative Assessment for special education students
According to the Scarsdale Board of Education, Scarsdale students perform well on the exams, though they said that more details on results would take some time. Parents do get a letter home with the results of their children’s tests.
The Regents is administered in the high school in January and June in English, History, the Sciences and Math. The number of students taking these exams vary widely. For example, according to district information, over 400 students take the Biology Regents and 350 take the English Regents. Of the 425 who take the Regents exam in Math, 275 are eighth graders. No students take Regents in World Languages according to the latest data provided.
The panel’s chief concern was how these tests would affect teaching, teachers and students. They were concerned that testing could create toxic competition among teachers who would be ranked by their student’s performance. If the teacher’s ranking was depending on test scores, only want high performers in their classrooms
So what to do? There didn’t seem to be a happy conclusion among the panelists that evening. All had grim predictions about the future impact of state mandated tests. When one parent asked if a protest would help, Assemblywoman Paulin was dubious that protests would change the trajectory. Her sense was that unless there was a huge movement that made big waves it would be ignored by the state. While she said that there is some talk of civil disobedience on this matter on the North Shore of Long Island, the panel did not think much could be done to avoid the state tests. The panel concluded that the tests are here to stay but suggested that the community minimize their impact by downplaying the results.
Speaking to the district after the meeting about the evaluations, they said that the process is rather complex. When asked about how and when the teacher rankings are made public, what happens to the lowest ranked teachers and if there is an appeal process they said that they need more clarity from the state before these questions can be answered. In the coming weeks Scarsdale schools will have a briefing session for the press on this very topic. We will bring that information to you as soon as it becomes available.
Jen is a freelance journalist who has covered the economy and markets for over a decade at a major financial news outlet. She lives in Scarsdale with her husband and 2 children. Jen has yet to bake a successful batch of cookies.