Spa School board to SED: butt out!

Posted at: 04/09/2013 11:41 PM
Updated at: 04/10/2013 6:58 AM
By: Dan Levy

SARATOGA SPRINGS - The Saratoga Springs School Board did something extraordinary Tuesday night: they told the State Education Department to butt out and let them educate their kids the way they see fit.

Beginning next week, third through eighth graders statewide will take their English Language Arts and Math exams, part of the Common Core Curriculum adopted by the Regents a few years ago.

On that eve of that testing, the Saratoga Springs School District is sending a message to SED: Don't over-stress our kids, and we believe there are better ways to measure student progress.

When test scores are added up for elementary and middle school students who begin taking the Common Core exams, the State Education Department is predicting many of those scores will be below grade level expectations.

Teachers in the Saratoga Springs School District have a big problem with that.

"Students are being tested on a curriculum they have not had the opportunity to learn," asserted Karen Swift, president of the Saratoga Springs Teachers Association, "Teachers have not had the opportunity to teach. It's like building a house on the wrong foundation."

It's not just teachers who are concerned. Mary Los has four daughters in the Saratoga district.

"I'm not saying that they're also not reinforcing some of the Core Curriculum," Los says, "They're actually learning how to take a test in the third and fourth grade. That's not a valuable use of classroom time."

On Tuesday night the board of education unanimously passed a resolution urging the state to reduce the use and over-reliance of standardized testing.

"It is time for policymakers to recalibrate the number, duration, and appropriate number of standardized tests to we can focus on student learning," said Ernest Gailer, vice president of the school board.

The state's position is that students can't wait any longer for Core Curriculum testing because only 35% of high school graduates have enough knowledge to begin college or enough skills to go to work.

Teachers think that's a backwards philosophy which won't bode well for them or their students.

"The results of these tests will be used to determine whether we are good educators," Swift suspected. "Low test scores will lead to our low evaluations. It seems that we've been set up to fail."

On the State Education website, it says the expected declining scores will have "little or no impact" on principals' or educators' growth scores.

The Saratoga School District -- and other school districts -- believe student portfolios, community service, and everyday classroom observation would be a more accurate way to gage a student's progress.

Tuesday night's resolution is non-binding, which means it will not exempt the district from the mandatory state tests.