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Schooll districts oppose graduation exams

Susan Notes:

Sue Allison of Marylanders High Stakes Testing Against sent this message to her Maryland group. The rest of us can appreciate the good news too.

Marylanders --

Do I have a great article for you today! About month ago - the Pennsylvania State Board of Education voted to institute high stakes high school exit exams. No surprise there - PA Governor Ed. Rendell is on the board of Achieve Inc. (Which just goes to show you - Democrats can be just as bad as Republicans when it comes to high stakes testing issues).

So anyway -- I didn't alert you to that development - probably because I found it too darn depressing - since I grew up in Pennsylvania.

But this morning, I received this awesome article from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette about an almost immediate and forceful high stakes testing backlash in our neighboring PA. Now here's the best part -- the first sentence of the article mentions the little township I grew up in -- a place with only one high school. It seems that my beloved Mt. Lebanon is the first school district in PA to adopt a resolution condemning the new high stakes testing requirement!

You'll have to forgive me, because I just finished that new Oprah book club book "A New Earth" - so I'm looking for universal connections everywhere - but what are the odds that my beloved Mt. Lebo is leading the charge for the children of PA? But the more I think about it - it makes perfect sense. I am so fortunate to be a graduate of Mt. Lebanon. Mt. Lebanon is a district that cherishes the whole child. Our schools are a community affair and the arts are put on par with math science and sports. At Mt. Lebanon I could take two years of architecture, TV production, any kind of art imaginable, Chinese, Russian, on and on and on. It was really a magical place where every student could pursue his or her own interests. The phrase "one size fits all" had no place in our high school. There is absolutely NOTHING that an oppressive, inhumane, narrow high stakes testing regime could offer Mt. Lebanon High School.

Note the appalling actions of the PA Secretary of Education- who actually had the nerve to send a letter to local school board members telling them to "ignore special groups" that have asked them to adopt a resolution opposing high stakes testing in PA. Shheesh!

Anyway -- this article shows us that we are not alone in this struggle. It does make me sad that so many of our local Maryland school boards remain so silent and passive - unlike the feisty school boards in PA that aren't afraid of a fight! But so be it. Maybe Pennsylvania will show us the way. Thanks for indulging me in this trip down memory lane. Go LEBO!

Marylanders Against High Stakes Testing

by Mary Niederberger

Monday the Mt. Lebanon school board unanimously approved a resolution opposing the graduation exams that the state Board of Education approved last month.

In the coming weeks, a number of other school boards in the South Hills are expected to follow suit, according to officers of the South Hills Area School Districts Association, which last month decided that all 22 of its member districts would take the resolutions to their boards.

"This is yet another example of an unfunded mandate and it further erodes the local control of boards. We don't need another unfunded mandate and we don't need another test to teach to in an already short school year," said Shauna D'Alessandro, who is president of the West Jefferson Hills school board and the SHASDA board.

On Jan. 16 the state Board of Education approved graduation exams for high school seniors. The proposal calls for tests in math, English, science and social studies and students would have to pass six tests in four areas.

In order to become law, the exam proposal must be endorsed by the state House and Senate Education committees. If that happens, students who are seniors in the 2013-14 school year would be the first to take the tests.

Mrs. D'Alessandro's comments echo the concerns of school directors and administrators throughout the area who are worried about the cost of administering the exams and believe it would be difficult to come up with one set of standards for students throughout the state.

The resolution that the local school boards are considering is modeled after one created by the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, which also opposes the graduation exam proposal.

Among the issues cited in the resolution is that "the exams will be the same for all students, whether they are taking college prep or vocational courses" and whether they are English as Second Language students or special education.

The resolution also states that "decades of research show" that test scores shouldn't be the determining factor in graduation requirements and that "a diploma should be granted based on the course work, tests and quizzes, presentations, projects and papers through the student's career."

It also notes that the mandate infringes on the local control of school boards, that the state has not done a cost analysis on administering the tests and that the tests will create new costs for schools because they will require changes in such areas as curriculum and staff development.

South Fayette School Superintendent Linda Hippert, who is president of the SHASDA superintendents, said the group last month discussed the graduation exams and decided unanimously to present resolutions of opposition to their boards.

The South Fayette board is expected to vote on its resolution next week as will the West Jefferson, Bethel Park and Upper St. Clair boards.

Dr. Hippert said she was unsure if a letter sent to school board members Feb. 12 by state Education Secretary Gerald Zahorchak will influence the votes.

The letter urges school directors to ignore "special interest groups who have asked you to adopt a resolution formally opposing these new graduation requirements."

But Mrs. D'Alessandro said she doesn't expect the letter to change any opinions among members of her board or the boards of the other SHASDA districts.

"The frustration in that room when we discussed this last month was unbelievably high and the vote was unanimous to oppose this. I can't see that changing," she said.

— Mary Niederberger
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


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