Testing, Testing…. 1,2,3
A Panel Discussion
Mr. McGoldrick spoke on The Price of Testing for the Teacher, Student and Taxpayer, Dr. Thornburg on Alternatives to High Stakes Testing in the Obama Era, and Dr. Baglio on Standardized Testing and College Admissions: What We Hope To See, What We Hope To Gain.
Dr. Blumberg opened the discussion by pointing out that demands for political accountability have altered the declared rationale behind the standardized testing movement, which was to improve schools, teaching practice and educational methods through the aggregation of testing data. Instead, these instruments have been adopted as high stakes tests with serious consequences for individual children and educational practice in general. She suggested that the liabilities in using these tests as high stakes measures are many: the tests are based on standards on which few serious educational professionals have reached consensus; the public nature of school systems create pressure for the districts to “teach to the test” - considered the weakest form of education; teaching to the test has been driving good teachers out of the profession; the current excessive use of standardized tests is emotionally damaging to our children; standardized testing misinforms the public about good education; in addition, there is virtually no empirical data that public education has been improved by the current use of these high stakes standardized tests.
After mentioning that the requirements for standardized testing are unfunded mandates which continue to grow, Mr. McGoldrick identified the annual dollar costs for Nassau county taxpayers for the NYSED tests at about $1.5 million. What makes this amount that much more difficult to defend is that the State testing program undermines good education with a loss of “creativity, energy and teachable moments” in the classroom. He argued that school has become little more than test preparation, and innovative teachers are easily discouraged. Mr. McGoldrick pointed out that the most recent generation of teachers has never known anything but “teaching to the tests.” He called on the “great sleeping giant” – the parents, represented by the HSAs and PTAs -- to organize and demand more effective learning experiences for our children.
Dr. Thornburg directed his comments to the serious disconnect between measures of accountability and what should guide instruction. The models of education put forth by Howard Gardener of Harvard and Linda Darling Hammond of Stanford are in direct contradiction to the way we now educate our children. The results of this failure, he pointed out, are evidenced in the generation of traumatized students now entering our colleges and universities. Dr. Thornburg did indicate that he was “guardedly optimistic” that the No Child Left Behind regulations might be more appropriate when they are re-authorized under the Obama administration.
Finally, Dr. Baglio identified the New York State Regents examinations as having little or no value and criticized the fact that they had too much weight in students’ grades. He, along with the other panel members, identified excessive test preparation as undermining learning, since the vast majority of the material is forgotten almost immediately after taking the test. Dr. Baglio asserted that alternatives to the current State tests should be developed to identify areas of need in students, but these should include writing and evidence of other critical thinking ability.
All of the panelists agreed that the current testing program in New York State fails to assess whether or not our children are learning what they need to know to succeed in today’s world - how to evaluate, synthesize and apply information to new situations.
Meeting Recap: February 4, 2008
Cecile Wren, on Social & Emotional Literacy
"SEL Leaders open their hearts by being BRAVE enough to be KIND and having the COURAGE to care!" -Cecile Wren
This is an outline of what are considered Social & Emotional Competencies:
Level I. Self Awareness
□ Identifying and recognizing emotions
□ Accurate self-perception
□ Recognizing strengths, needs and values
Level II. Social Awareness
□ Appreciating diversity
□ Respect for others
III. Responsible Decision Making
□ Problem identification and analysis
□ Evaluation and reflection
□ Personal, moral/ethical responsibility
Level IV. Self Management
□ Impulse control and stress management
□ Self-motivation and discipline
□ Goal setting and organizational skills
Level V. Relationship Management
□ Communication, social engagement and building relationships
□ Working cooperative
□ Conflict management
Please refer to the Links page for Social & Emotional Literacy resources generously provided by Cecile Wren.
AGATE Board with Dr. Nicholas Stirling
• PEP criteria for entry and appeal process have been confirmed by PGDC, and should shortly be posted at PortNet.
• Middle School PEP program was discussed.
• We requested that clear guidelines as to the entry requirements for middle and high school advanced courses be established and made available to all interested constituents, including parents and students. We also request that an appeals process be considered and established for same.
• We discussed the Schreiber Writing Center and its possible expansion and potential for informing other areas of the writing curriculum.
• We requested further information regarding the tool in use for testing for giftedness in Kindergarten
• We presented the District Comparative Analysis our volunteer team (Sharen Kam and Allison White) have prepared.
• We announced that Cecile Wren will speak on Social & Emotional Literacy at our February 4th meeting.
Corbey Hyman had a fire in her house last Sunday, and while the damage was localized and they did not suffer any injuries, dealing with displacement from their home is a significant disruption in Corbey's life. She has therefore, with great regret, resigned from her position as co-President of AGATE to take care of her family's needs. Their immediate needs are being looked after, and we will let you know as needs may arise to support them. Meanwhile, I am sure that you join me in giving thanks for their safety, and for Corbey's leadership and commitment to AGATE, the well-being of our children, and the workability of our district.
Therefore, among several other posts to be filled, we are actively looking for a co-President to complete Corbey's term, which expires June 30. Our new bylaws enable the Board to appoint a replacement in case of a midyear board vacancy. Please contact AGATEPW@GMAIL.COM if you are interested in joining the Executive Board of AGATE.
We met at the Port Library on Monday morning for our first (ever?) morning meeting. There were approximately 20 people in attendance, which encourages us to think that we may occasionally continue to offer meetings other than at night. There is one other daytime meeting scheduled for this school year, on Wednesday, February 27, again at the Library, at 11 am. We have no December meeting, and our next meeting is in January, Monday night the 14th, back at the Weber library. Further details will be emailed.
At this week's meeting we read through, conducted a discussion of the new bylaws, and took a vote. The vote to ratify was unanimous, and there were no concerns expressed about the new structure of the organization. Please find the ratified bylaws, attached.
We were pleased to welcome Mr. Hank Hardy, Director of Guidance (K-12) for the District. Mr. Hardy is AGATE's liaison to the District. This is part of the structure here in Port for HSA's and PTA's; each parent organization that participates in the Superintendent's Principals & Presidents meetings and holds a seat on the Parent Council has an official District Liaison, generally a building principal, and in the case of SEPTA, the Director of Pupil Personnel Services, Kathy Mooney. We are honored to have Mr. Hardy as our partner, and he has expressed the same sentiment at serving with us. He has offered us a new 'mantra' that he lives by: Fairness, Consistency, and Equity, particularly as it applies to access to programming. We are pleased to be working with him, and expect good things to come from this partnership. The leadership of AGATE will continue to meet with Dr. Stirling and other administrators as appropriate to our advocacy mission.
The District Comparison Committee reported on their work, which has advanced significantly in the past weeks. A new survey has been prepared, and Dr. Hardy, who meets regularly with his counterparts in other districts on the North Shore, and who has contacts further afield, has kindly offered to facilitate the distribution of the survey, which should make the committee's work much lighter. The surveys will be distributed the first week in December, and the committee volunteers, led by Chair Sharen Kam and assisted by Allison White, will then be charged with follow up and analysis work in the weeks and months that follow. The committee hopes to have findings to present before the end of the school year. Bravo!
During the brainstorming/networking portion of our meeting, we discussed issues of social and emotional literacy and the emotional needs of gifted children. Parents report that their gifted children occasionally are underchallenged in the classroom, which leads to social misconduct (or sometimes it's the child that feels singled out and is uncomfortable about it), with the result that both parents and teachers become misdirected to dealing with the child's emotional needs and not addressing their intellectual needs. Obviously, a precis such as this cannot possibly do justice to the various nuances and many aspects of such a discussion. Allison White referred parents to an organization called SENG, Supporting the Needs of the Gifted as a resource (www.sengifted.org). Beth Horn spoke of attending a conference in Huntington on SEL, Social and Emotional Literacy.
We spent the first hour of the meeting presenting the proposal for the new AGATE structure that was distributed last week in email, and of the new plan for running our meetings. We reviewed the parallels of the new structure to other HSA's in town, and reviewed the fact that although the AGATE reps, for instance, will no longer be on the executive board they will be on the advisory board, and since the original intent of bringing them into the board was to enable them to attend the board meetings, we've addressed that gap by restructuring the meetings.
There were no objections to the proposal voiced, but it was agreed that we would not take conclusive action at this time. We will continue to try to fill the Executive Board positions and to conduct the meetings as per the proposal, and to revisit the proposal at the November meeting, with the hope that we can bring some closure to the ideas at that meeting.
We reviewed our major areas of concern and entered into some discussion of each one along the way. (see attached).
We opened the meeting up to issues from the membership for the last 35 minutes of the meeting; the principal issue discussed was entry into PEP at the elementary level. The issue, from several parents with different circumstances, is that there seems to be no appeals process for extenuating circumstances. One case involved a child who had her IQ test on a day she was sent home sick by the school nurse, and tested one point below the cutoff for eligibility to be retested. After over a year of effort on the part of the parent, the final answer at this point seems to be no, there is no possibility of retesting. The other parent had a child that came in to the district in 3rd grade and who therefore did not have the specific criteria (assessments by 2nd grade teacher) to be admitted. This was followed by a 3rd grade year with a problematic relationship between the teacher and the child, and thus the 3rd grade assessment was negative. No hard solutions were offered, but much encouragement for persistence and ideas for who to contact and in what sequence were shared by the group. Board members in attendance brought up some key questions such as, if we don't admit these children into PEP but we do recognize that they are qualified as gifted in some way, then what other alternatives are we offering them? Notes were taken for future conversations with Dr. Stirling.
Finally, a plea was made for those present to cover the Weber and Salem Open Houses at the AGATE table (Thursday and WEdnesday of this week, respectively) as Salem has no reps and no one to cover the AGATE table, and Weber has reps but no one to cover the table. We will be sending out an email request to the membership to try to find someone.
We also reviewed all the open positions for committee chairs and asked members to step up to the work that is to be done. We reminded everyone that if they don't do the work it simply will not get done. One person agreed to take one committee on. A list of positions is also attached.
There were approximately 20 people in attendance.
Meeting recap: 0ctober 16, 2007
AGATE board with Dr. Stirling, Asst. Superintendent, Curriculum, instruction & assessment
• Dr. Stirling outlined for us his review of the PEP core program entrance criteria, indicating that minor adjustments have been proposed that establish tools to assess students coming in from out of District; these changes will be made public once the PGCD review process is completed. He indicated that this is a first step in an overall review of all accelerated program documentation. He reviewed the fact that criteria for re-testing IQ will not change, and that the 130 cutoff is a commonly used benchmark, and that the 125-135 variation allowing for re-testing represents two standard deviations, which is also a commonly used and reasonable margin.
• Dr. Stirling indicated that he and his staff are reviewing staffing issues with next year's budget in mind, specifically looking at equity issues among the schools.
• Smartboards are installed and being used at Manorhaven.
• Dr. Stirling has met with the new Middle School PEP teachers; there is excitement about the energy and enthusiasm that they are bringing to the program. Dr. Stirling is committed to supporting them, even to the extent of allocating some of his budget on an equity basis.
• We brought to his attention our concern about the lack of a parallel structure between the Honors English and the advanced Math and Science programs available in 9th and 10th grades at Schreiber.
• We discussed the fact that from time to time there is a need to fund special projects for advanced students, such as last year's trip for the Science Olympiad finals in Kansas. It was agreed that should additional funds be needed, information might be circulated via Parents Council as the most efficient method for getting the word out.