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Standards! Not Standardization!

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Scarsdale School Board Statement

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STOP: Westchester Parent Group

Fooling The People

It was, of course, inevitable that, sooner or later, parents who understand the meaning of education would challenge New York State’s current policy on mass testing. The story appeared on page 1 of the April 13th New York Times.

“Scarsdale, N.Y., April 12 – Parents and school officials in this affluent suburb, where test scores are among the highest not only in the state but also in the nation, are planning a coordinated revolt against state standardized tests, saying they have stifled creativity and forced teachers to abandon the very programs that have made the schools excel.
The parents of some 100 eighth graders – a third of the class – have pledged to keep their children home from school when tests are administered in that grade next month. They are doing this with consent, and even subtle advice, from school officials, who administer the tests.”

Although the language is somewhat different, the sentiment of Scarsdale parents and school people exactly reflects the independent schools’ position of the last five years.

Over and over we have said that one-size-fits-all content based testing destroys curricular autonomy (which is the reason for our being), stifles originality and demoralizes teachers whose performance is judged by standardized test scores. The saddest aspect of compulsory state testing is that it is essentially a political, not an educational solution to a social problem. The quickest way to get poor performing schools and students to look better is to raise scores on prepackaged tests. Everyone knows that single focus preparation produces at least some improvement from virtually any group. But to tell the general public that such training for tests raises educational standards is an abomination.

As the present cycle of “educational reform” winds down, we begin to see cracks in the heretofore unyielding edifice. There is talk of vocational diplomas, of retaining the Regents Competency Tests for special education students, and of considering the pleas of alternative schools for more flexibility. The one thing we know absolutely after a century of research is that the best and deepest learning never results from rigid teaching and a monolithic curriculum. As we hear at last from the parents of Scarsdale, it really is true that you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.

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Jeanne Heifetz set out trying to outsmart what she perceived as her enemy — New York's department of education — and in the view of many, she succeeded.

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