Stakes Test Impact Dropout Rates
Assemblyman Steven Sanders
news that the dropout rate in New York City high schools continues
to surge is, regrettably, not a surprise, in light of the Regents
“do or die” high-stakes graduation tests combined with vastly
inadequate resources to provide students at risk with appropriate
Whether or not one supports the Board of Regents’ one-size-fits-all
regimen that requires every public school student to pass five
Regents examinations to graduate, to refuse to recognize that
many students, including English language learners (new immigrants),
students with learning disabilities, and others need extra help
to be able to pass the five tests strikes me as naive—and tragic.
If a student has trouble “getting” science, for example, but does
well in each of his other subjects and passes all his courses,
doesn’t it make sense that our schools must have the resources
to provide that student with extra preparation for a science Regents
exam? What about a student who has perfect attendance and passes
all of his courses, but is not a great test-taker—particularly
under pressure? Or a student who struggles with history and wants
to be, say, an electrician. Facing a history regents exam that
seems daunting at best, is it a surprise that the student might
choose to dropout?
Here’s what is so: Many people have confused standards
with high-stakes testing. If one challenges the inflexibility
of the five regents exam requirement, you are accused of being
soft on standards. The problem is that the very inflexibility
of our testing regimen—whether that precise regimen is right or
wrong—when combined with inadequate resources and the absence
of tutoring and extra help for kids that need it, creates an educational
equivalent of capital punishment for these kids. We are pushing
too many of them to the brink, off the cliff, and out of school.
No Diploma stigmatizes and sentences many of these kids
for life. They cannot get jobs, they cannot serve in the military,
and we condemn them to a life that is pretty hopeless and totally
I have impressed upon State Education Commissioner Mills for over
three years, and members of the Board of Regents, that we are
on a very dangerous course, reflected by the mounting dropout
rate in New York City public schools. At the same time, Commissioner
Mills, the Regents and here in the city, Chancellor Levy—to their
credit— have been outspoken and persistent in challenging Governor
Pataki and City Hall that our resources are vastly inadequate.
Here in the city, and in many other parts of the state, State
aid is both inequitable and inadequate, as held by Justice DeGrasse
in the Campaign for Fiscal Equity case that Governor Pataki—in
one of his worst moves—is appealing.
Only with adequate resources can we provide the professional development,
teacher mentoring, remedial services, tutoring and test preparation
for city high school students who need it. Largely, the disgraceful
under-funding of our schools creates an assault on the most vulnerable
students, many of whom’s first language is other than English,
are part of very low-income families, and face family, social
or emotional pressures that make academic achievement more difficult.
There are those who will make excuses and switch the argument.
“Bad teachers are the problem.” “If the Mayor was in charge, no
kids would fail.” “The parents are to blame.” There are also the
racial stereotypes: “Asian kids all do great in school,” or “When
my parents came here from NAME OF COUNTRY, they worked hard and
nobody gave them extra help!” These are all diversions
and irrelevant: the fact is that unless we have the proper resources,
we’ll keep losing good teachers and conditions will get worse.
Without providing all the right guidance services and educational
support, we will watch as tens of thousands of students simply
give up and bail out. This is a shameful neglect of our responsibility
to our young people, an assault on these student’s futures, and
a lit fuse for the New York City of tomorrow. #
Sanders is chairman of the NYS Assembly’s Committee on Education.
You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone him
at (212) 979-9696.
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