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NCLB Outrages

Suburbs not immune to test woes

by Catherine Dean

As a parent of three sons educated in the Penfield school system, I have a vested interest in the debate over standardized testing.

These tests are used as an assessment tool to measure progress in math and science, as required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which Congress either must authorize this year or allow to sunset. While two of my sons are now in college, my youngest is a junior in high school, not yet free of this style of testing.

A couple of months ago, I attended an Editorial Board meeting at which the Coalition for Common Sense in Education was present.

A diverse group of educators (one of whom is William Cala, new interim city school superintendent) presented their assessment of the NCLB act.

They emphatically stated it is a very punitive act designed for punishing schools under the guise of encouraging success.

In addition, they say the standardized test is an inaccurate measurement of knowledge that unfairly singles out urban schools.

Rochester's city schools are vulnerable. Many city students live in poverty. Some are neglected and not encouraged to learn.

Poverty and violence certainly have an impact, making life, let alone school, difficult. While I agree city schools face unique challenges, it is a mistake to think suburban school students don't have their share of challenges as well.

What do we do with students who have disabilities? Learning-disabled students often need to make modifications in teaching styles (offering calculators or note takers, for example) for the students' benefits.

If it is acknowledged that those with learning disabilities learn differently, it should be an obvious conclusion that those students would likely test differently as well.

It is well-known that many students do not respond well to standardized testing. It is a mistake to think that a one-size-fits-all test will work for all different types of personalities and learning styles.

In fact, as Mr. Cala pointed out at the Editorial Board meeting, the testing overlooks tapping into the full skills of the individual. Very often, individual in-school projects and assignments adequately show what an individual student has learned.

Education policies should be shaped by educators. I hope Mr. Cala's position as interim superintendent in Rochester will help in getting our politicians to listen to what's wrong with standardized testing. While there is a place for them in assessing progress, they should not be used as a sole indicator.

The pressure it puts on administrators, teachers and students takes away from the joy of teaching and learning. In addition, it cannot be relied on as an accurate measure of success.

Dean, of Penfield, is a a member of the Editorial Board's 2007 Board of Contributors. Board of Contributor members advise the Editorial Board and write occasional columns.

Kudos to Rochester

Rochester City School District- Press Release
April 4, 2007

Board of Education Taps William Cala for Interim Superintendent

The Rochester Board of Education has selected Dr. William Cala for the post of Interim Superintendent of the Rochester City School District. Cala is an educational activist and former Fairport Schools superintendent.

âWe had an exceptional field of candidates. Dr. Cala stood out because of his extraordinary commitment to children and the fresh perspective he will provide,â said Board Vice President Malik Evans, who chairs the Superintendent Search Committee.

Cala is president of âJoining Hearts and Hands, Ltd.,â a non-profit organization working to fight AIDS and poverty in Kenya. âJoining Hearts and Handsâ is rebuilding schools and providing scholarships for secondary school students in villages in the Lake Victoria area of Kisumu, Kenya. He retired from Fairport Schools in 2006 to guide the fledgling organization full-time. Among the organizationâs accomplishments are completion of a new school building, establishing health clinics, providing school uniforms for orphans, purchasing textbooks and supplies, and granting 35 four-year scholarships so students could attend high school.

âHis goal-oriented leadership is remarkable and will serve the District well while he is with us,â Evans said. Cala will remain with the District through the selection of a permanent replacement for Dr. Manuel Rivera, who is leaving the District April 30 to work with Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

A vocal critic of the federal No Child Left Behind Act and high-stakes testing, Cala has championed the challenges faced by English Language Learners and disadvantaged students. âNationally and statewide in New York, we have heard the empty phrases âLeave no child behindâ and âThe poor of our cities must be afforded the same high standards as our suburban schools.â So far, the only equality for all that we are experiencing is the equality of the same test. Equality of curriculum, financial aid, remedial help and social programs is nowhere to be found,â Cala wrote in a national educational journal.

In 2004, Cala was honored by Phi Delta Kappa International, which presented him with the Presidential Award for Exceptional Educator Leadership. He also received the George Eastman Award for Courage and Leadership in Public Policy from the Center for Governmental Research, The Genesee Valley Peacemakers Award of 2006 and the Willie Lightfoot Youth Advocate Award of 2006.

âWe are confident that Dr. Calaâs exemplary leadership skills are precisely attuned to the role of interim superintendent,â Evans said.

— Catherine Dean
Rochester (NY) Democrat & Chronicle


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