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A Letter To All Members of the Board of Regents

September, 2005

To All Members of the Board of Regents
Albany, New York

Dear Members of the Board of Regents:

As professional historians who value historical instruction and learning at every step of the educational ladder, we are heartened by the lively debate over rigorous standards particularly because our own work at the university level is invariably affected by what goes on in high school classrooms.

We write, however, to express our deep concern regarding the impact that the current policy of high stakes testing in social studies is having on effective teaching and the preparation of students in the study of history at the college level.

Experience has taught us that the use of such testing as a primary assessment tool constrains curriculum and classroom practice because it de-emphasizes analytical reading, writing, and thinking abilities required by the discipline. We find that students and teachers girding for high stakes tests too often proceed rapidly and superficially through a chronology utilizing a single text and examining primary source documents via rote with predetermined questions. When this occurs, students may not learn how to make informed judgments central to the interpretation and understanding of history.

While we understand that some New York schools wish to cultivate these skills within the conventional framework developed by the state, we strongly support the effort by others who have developed alternative methods of teaching history - methods that stress depth, the use of multiple sources, and the ability of students to articulate and refine their own perspectives through a rigorous analysis of historical evidence.

Moreover, because we have met and worked with dozens of high school teachers whose knowledge, love of history, and commitment enable them to work along these lines, we would strongly encourage the adoption of a system flexible enough to accommodate such an approach. Present arrangements do not.

A structure that allows alternative teaching and assessment mechanisms to operate without undue constraints has the potential to greatly enhance instruction at the high school level, strengthen collaboration between secondary and college educators, and draw more dedicated historians into the ranks of high school teachers.

We urge you to insure and sustain the sort of teaching that best prepares students for college level work. We would, of course, be willing to work with you toward that goal.

Sincerely,

cc: Assemblyman Steven Sanders
Senator Stephen Saland

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A study, conducted by researchers at Arizona State University, found that while students show consistent improvement on state high-stakes graduation tests, the tests have failed to improve their performance on other, independent measures of academic achievement, such as the SAT and AP exams.