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Scarsdale School Board Statement

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Scarsdale School Board Statement

The Scarsdale Schools have historically sought to provide every student with exemplary public education in the liberal arts tradition.

Board of Education
Meeting - February 11, 2002

This statement was adopted by the Scarsdale School Board on February 14,2002.

The Scarsdale Schools have historically sought to provide every student with "an exemplary public education in the liberal arts tradition." The District is committed to thoughtful inquiry and reasoned exchange in a climate of respect. At the heart of this enterprise is the personal encounter between student and teacher, the teacher seeking to understand the student's conceptions and to respond with questions, ideas, and guidance that enlarge his or her world. It is this human engagement with rich and challenging content, thoughts, aesthetic experiences, and feelings, that fosters educated people.

Though public schools can be proud of many successes, our state and nation have never been able to bring such an education within the reach of all children. They are now involved in a great experiment, the standards and testing movement, aimed at overcoming longstanding and unconscionable educational inequities that unfairly limit the horizons of many children, often from less affluent backgrounds. That experiment is often seen as the “lever" that will finally create the pressure to force long-delayed and much-needed change in schools.

A reliance on testing has not been shown to yield long-term growth in learning or the meaningful education that should be the goal of every school. Neither has it resulted in the fundamental improvements in teacher quality, class size, funding, and other resources that are required to overcome historic inequalities. When mass testing shifts energy and attention from efforts to make these improvements, when it undercuts rich, engaging curriculum and teaching, and when it intrudes on classrooms without adding significantly to understandings of how to improve learning, it works against its own goals.

With respect for the intent of the experiment, the Scarsdale Board of Education disagrees with significant aspects of the present State and Federal approaches. Rather, we support the following principles:

Better schools depend on strong teachers, favorable class size, adequate resources.

Because meaningful education is at its heart both personal and individual, its essence is excellent teachers who know their students and how they think. Teachers must transfer important knowledge, but students must also be engaged if they are to grow to their fullest. In the best classrooms, both teacher and students are learners. This exchange requires favorable class sizes, as well as texts and other materials that extend the experience to include people, ideas, events, the natural universe, and other times and places. The state should therefore provide adequate funds to districts that currently lack resources to provide better teaching and learning.

Responsible test programs involve multiple measures and kinds of measures.

Multiple measures and kinds of measures are essential for making decisions about students, teachers, or schools. Testing is an imperfect art. Also, scores can reflect students' anxiety, language difficulties, or the creative answer that is wrong in the test manual but correct in reality. Therefore, no single test or kind of test can fairly evaluate a student's knowledge. The American Psychological Association, the American Educational Research Association, and other respected professional associations have declared that because of such problems, high stakes tests, in particular, fail to meet professional standards. High stakes state graduation tests moreover, appear to lead to higher dropout rates. These consequences make them inadvisable. Therefore, the state assessment program should provide for multiple measures of performance.

Mass testing should be limited to measuring skills, not content.

Mass testing and related public pressure may improve scores. They can sometimes force under-performing schools or teachers to focus on clearer objectives. However, they also have undesirable consequences, narrowing instruction to only what might be tested and prompting an excessive emphasis on test preparation. This narrowing and flattening of education is the antithesis of the deep, rich, engaging learning that should be the goal of all schools. The problem occurs more in the case of academic content than of skills. Therefore, mass testing should be limited to the areas of math, reading, and writing.

Mass testing should be timely and limited in quantity.

The main goal of testing should be to help teachers understand their students' thinking and learning, and to improve curriculum and teaching. Testing should be a part of the regular teaching and learning process, should take no more time or energy than necessary to obtain good information, and should yield usable results. New York's tests can each take up to the equivalent of ten school days in a given subject, considering teacher preparation, test administration, and correction. Because of lag time in reporting and because of the type of feedback, which is incomplete or inadequate, these tests do not achieve their goal. The amount of testing should be limited and the scoring process accelerated and refined.

Schools of demonstrated quality or special promise should have flexibility.

America's strength is its ability to unleash the individual initiative essential to excellence. Government should regulate as needed, but must encourage independence and enterprise to yield the greatest achievement and growth in the long run. Excellence appears in many dimensions; many paths lead to it; it can be measured in many ways. Consistent with these premises, local schools urban and suburban, more and less affluent should be encouraged in efforts to develop unique programs and teaching that will engage their own students. They should also be able to exhibit their quality in different ways, provided they are accountable to their communities and the state.

State officials should place testing in proper perspective.

The fulcrum for the lever of standards and testing is competition for better scores, public shame, and punishment for those who lag in the race. However, the seeming precision of numbers masks the facts that score differences often lack statistical meaning, comparisons are frequently inappropriate, and the resulting conclusions are inaccurate and unfair. The consequence is to promote policy decisions that in the long run may harm the quality of education. These consequences could be ameliorated, much curricular distortion would be avoided, and needless student, parent, and teacher anxiety over testing would be diminished if state officials were publicly to point out the limitations of their measures and discourage the oft-meaningless score comparisons that their publications promote.

The Legislature should require regular, independent evaluations of state testing.

The standards and testing movement is as much a political as an educational phenomenon. As a consequence, few involved in the arguments for or against, in claims of success or failure, are disinterested in its outcome. While beliefs should play a role in decisions about the future, so must reliable empirical evidence. To that end, the Legislature should establish an independent commission comprised of experts in testing and alternative assessment, as well as representatives from the Department of Education and the field, to provide regular, independent evaluations of the quality, results, and effects of state and federal test programs.

Localities should retain their historic authority over education.

By imposing tests with high-stakes consequences and forbidding local districts to grant diplomas, un-elected state officials shifted historic authority over educational practice. The change occurred by fiat, in an atmosphere of crisis, with a minimum of discussion and absent formal expression of the popular will. The Constitution of the State requires the Legislature "to provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free public schools" and creates a Board of Regents. This never meant school districts could not graduate their own students. We support legislation confirming local districts' historic right to establish criteria for, and to grant, diplomas.

The Board of Education and the Scarsdale Public Schools remain committed to local excellence, but just as much to the quality of education across our state and nation. All our futures are bound together. The debate over education reform is not a reflection of economic or class differences, and it should not pit more and less affluent, urban, and suburban communities or schools, against one another. The future of all public schools and, in no small measure, our society, is at stake. The challenge requires careful analysis of the issues, a process of listening and of reasoning together.

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