Hearings On High-Stakes Testing Planned
Later this fall, I will chair hearings on New York State’s high-stakes Regents exams, the subject of much debate. All too often, high standards, which the Regents and State Education Commissioner Richard Mills are to be congratulated for developing, are confused with high-stakes, Ado or die exams. But high standards do not require or justify high-stakes testing.
I have no problem at all with the use of standardized tests, given statewide, as a key assessment tool providing important district-by-district and comparative information for the Regents and the State Education Department, as well as for local superintendents, principals and teachers.
Until the Regents promulgated the new learning standards in 1996, there was little objective evaluation of the performance of high school students anywhere in New York State, with each of the 700 school districts employing their own set of standards for high school graduation.
Having said that, I have great concern that the Regents and the Commissioner made a determination which I feel was wrong and dangerously rigid, to go from one extreme to another. Accountability does not require the Regents’ requirement that no student can earn a diploma, regardless of their entire academic record, without passing rigorous Regents exams in each of five subjects (English, Math, Science, American History and Global History). Failing even one of those exam means that the student is denied a diploma.
We all have our strengths and weaknesses, good days and bad days. Furthermore, can we ever be truly satisfied that the exam itself is without error and fairly calibrated at the appropriate level of difficulty? Can we be truly confident that what is being tested was adequately taught or that each test always correlates neatly to the learning standards and curriculum?
And even if the test is perfectly devised, a student’s one bad score or one bad day should not define a school career.
The importance of high standards and common assessment criteria is real. All students should take Regents exams and all schools should factor those results into determining the student’s final grade. Additionally, Regents exam marks should be part of a student’s transcript and, as such, become a component of the student’s overall academic profile.
Yes, of course our schools and our students should be held to high standards. But the one-size-fits-all testing model adopted by the Board of Regents swings the pendulum too far, the policy reflecting confusion between solid standards and high-stakes hype.#
Steven Sanders, (D, Man.), is Chairman of the New York State Assembly Education Committee. To contact him, or for information about the locations and schedule of hearings, e-mail him at email@example.com or phone 212 979-9696.