Home Schools Southold Union Free School District Southold superintendent says Cuomo’s focus on standardized tests ‘almost reprehensible’

Southold superintendent says Cuomo’s focus on standardized tests ‘almost reprehensible’

Hours after New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo gave his State of the State address Wednesday, Southold Union Free School District Superintendent David Gamberg said he was not pleased with the message.

In the address, Cuomo promised an increase of almost five percent in state aid, but qualified the hike with a caveat — a heightened emphasis on results of standardized tests, and relying on them even more heavily for teacher evaluations.

“We are still digesting some of the initial reports,” Gamberg said. But, he added, “It’s almost reprehensible. Aid that should be going to school districts,” to help struggling, cash-strapped districts, “or to offset the burden of property taxes shouldn’t be tied to anything close to standardized test measurements. It’s important to acknowledge that doubling down in this direction is a direction that has not proven to have any validity in the last three years. It’s not wise for Southold — or for any district in New York State.”

Southold Board of Education member Judi Fouchet agreed, pointing to a presentation that students gave on a new marine sciences elective at the board meeting.

In addition, Fouchet said she’s also seen other, “just wonderful educational” opportunities in the district, such as the Career Academy, the student-run TV station, and a forensic science elective. She said those offer a true measure of how students are learning.

“I would like to send a letter to Governor Cuomo,” she said. “I would like to know how standardized tests, that are so important, are going to give us a measure of what these students spoke to us about tonight. Nothing in these tests can measure that.”

She added that she thought the board could write letters about the Southold school district, “about how these policies will harm our school — we can be very specific, and personal. I feel very fortunate that I work with a board and  a superintendent that truly, truly believe in the value of real education. I’m inspired by what’s going on around us, and that you guys keep staying the course. I’m very proud to be a part of that.”

It wasn’t the first time Gamberg has spoken out against mandatory testing in recent months.

In December the Southold Board of Education took a stand against field testing.

According to Gamberg, the New York State Education Department has decided to make field testing mandatory.

The field tests, he said, are exams for students in grades three to eight, and consist of practice questions to develop appropriate questions for future assessment tests in English Lanuage Arts and Math, which are given in April every year.

“Southold is taking the position that there has been an excessive amount of testing,” which, Gamberg said, lowers the quality of instruction and reduces students’ learning opportunities.

To that end, Gamberg consulted with an attorney and crafted a resolution stating the board’s opposition to the field testing. “Our strongly held belief is that the nature of field testing compounds an already difficult problem,” Gamberg said.

At issue, the superintendent said, is the physical amount of time spent in preparation, during and after all the mandated testing students are subject to today. “It has a compounding effect when tests are high stakes. We want to tamp down, and we are not alone in this,” he said.

Due to the fact that the tests “don’t count” Gamberg said anecdotal evidence suggests that students are not taking the field tests “as seriously as you might think. They might fill in anything. If you’ve been tested 10 to 20 hours over the course of a testing cycle by the time you get to these tests, you are done. We are calling on the state not to make field tests mandatory.”

In the past, the tests have always been voluntary, he said.

In addition, the resolution states that “the Board of Education believes the testing companies realize a commercial profit by using children and taxpayer resources to advance their business plans.”

Gamberg said a large number of school districts have adopted similar resolutions.

BOE chair Paulette Ofrias said the resolution should be sent to the appropriate state representative. “We want to show that we take it seriously,” she said.