Bush's New Testing Plan Gets Failing Grade in Region
Ohanian Comment: It is encouraging to see parents protesting the added federal testing. Note that the Democrats support NCLB and just want more funding.
President Bush's call to require annual math and English tests for students in grades nine through 11 has little support in New York City's northern suburbs, where many parents, lawmakers and school officials say state Regents exams provide sufficient accountability.
Others oppose the proposal because the federal government has not fully funded its No Child Left Behind program. They also question whether Bush's pledge of $250 million would be enough to pay for the new testing mandate.
"What's proposed isn't enough to pay for development of the tests, let alone pay for helping kids who can't pass the first time around," said Byram Hills Superintendent John Chambers. "It's lunacy."
Mahopac parent Heidi Stein said suburban schools don't need more tests to gauge student progress or lack of it.
"Teachers have a good handle on how children are doing and who is falling behind," she said. "Our kids have enough things to be stressed about without adding more tests."
Under federal law, New York tests students in English and math in grades four and eight, and once in high school, and will begin testing in grades three, five, six and seven in 2005-06.
Scarsdale parent Leslie Berkovits said she fears that the state will mandate a curriculum if statewide math tests are ordered for grades nine to 11. More tests for high school juniors would be particularly onerous, she said, because college-bound juniors already take the PSAT and SAT, Regents exams, and tests for Advanced Placement courses. She also said it was too soon.
"How can you add another level of testing to the upper grades when we still don't know how it will work with the lower grades?"
But Bush, concerned that teens don't acquire the literacy and math skills they need to succeed, said in last week's State of the Union address that it was time to demand better results.
Hans Meeder, deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of Education, acknowledged there may be some "accountability fatigue" in the education community. However, he said, annual testing is a key element of the administration's strategy to improve school performance. He said the proposal would cover annual costs, estimated at $30 per student. "We need to keep the focus on whether students are making progress each year," Meeder said.
Yonkers Superintendent Angelo Petrone said he appreciated the president's goals but doubted the funding would cover the costs.
"Piling on more unfunded mandates is a drain on our already financially exhausted urban public schools," he said.
Interviews with three members of the House of Representatives and New York's two U.S. senators found disagreement among Republicans and Democrats.
Rep. Sue Kelly, R-Katonah, said the plan deserved serious consideration. "Any proposal to improve the quality of a high school education needs to be fully considered and vetted," she said.
Four Democrats who voted for No Child Left Behind in 2001 — Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Charles Schumer, and Reps. Nita Lowey, D-Harrison, and Eliot Engel, D-Bronx — cited lack of funding as a reason for their opposition. Clinton said appropriations in 2005 for No Child Left Behind were close to $10 billion below levels authorized by Congress. She said the Regents exams already show whether teens are learning.
"New York has one of the most stringent accountability systems in the country," she said. "We have been ahead of the curve with our Regents tests and graduation requirements. I certainly don't think this is applicable to New York."
If Bush's proposal passes, New York would fit the tests around its current testing regimen, with students required to pass five Regents exams, including one in math, taken in grade nine or 10, and a two-day English exam, taken in grade 11. Chambers said state Deputy Education Commissioner James Kadamus recently told local education leaders that New York might split the English test into two years, so students would take one part in 10th grade and the second part a year later.
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President Bush unveiled high school reform proposals in January:
• Testing students in grades nine through 11.
• $200 million for improved reading skills.
• $269 million to support mathematics instruction.
• $52 million to schools in low-income communities to train AP teachers.
• $500 million in incentives for teachers who demonstrate improvement in student performance and teach in low-income districts.
David McKay Wilson
INDEX OF NCLB OUTRAGES