Stateline Story

School Superintendents, Educators React to Bush Test Plan

President George W. Bush's plan to test every student every year in grades 3-8 isn't making the grade with some of the nation's school superintendents, administrators and testing experts who attended the American Association of School Administrators conference in Florida, February 17-19.

"It is asinine and horrendous," Ronald Ross, Superintendent of Mt. Vernon an urban New York school district, said when asked what he thought of Bush's testing plan.

"The biggest line we've ever heard in America is that the tests are aligned to curriculum and standards," added Ross.

Over the last decade, states have been setting standards of learning for each grade and then testing students to measure progress.

Bob Barr of Boise State University, an expert on high-risk students, said testing is necessary. "We have got to do it. People are saying we are testing too much. But the testing is dramatizing that we aren't teaching a huge amount of kids. It shows teachers, administrators and superintendents what we aren't doing and what we have to do."

Karen Austin, of the Texas Education Department agrees,"the single most important thing Texas did was disaggregate the results and hold public schools accountable for every child." By breaking down the scores the state learned which students were lagging behind.

Mike Osnato, a superintendent from Mt. Clare, New Jersey says "We test students every year. There has to be some consistent standard across the country, especially when you look at poor kids."

But Tim Jackson, a Plainsfield Indiana school board member disagreed,"There is a whole lot more to school than taking a test, like socialization. I'm afraid (the Bush policy) will raise some artificial horizons in our society. We will have a lot of students who can pass a test, but what else can they do? They get weeded out too soon. I'm pretty successful at what I do now, but that wouldn't have shown up in second or third grade."

Jan Hammond, Chair of Education Department at SUNY New Paltz, insists that there needs to be more research before rushing into testing policies. There is a lot of stress for kids, "Good kids don't want to go to school because there is too much pressure," she said.

Wes Smith, a Superintendent from Breckenridge, Colorado agrees. "These tests become a mirror and students think it is an accurate mirror of who they are," he said.

But Marjorie Castro, Superintendent of Croton-Harmon district in New York, thinks testing wastes the time of high performing students. "It affects creativity in the classroom. High performance districts should not have to tailor their instruction to very basic tests."

Governors and state policy makers say that testing is here to stay, but educators seem disturbed by the federal government mandating exams.

"I'm troubled by the federal government's involvement. Typically, these kinds of programs cause concern about how to compare results from one state or school district to another. So there will be tremendous pressure to standardize the tests," said Tom Maguire President of Education Records Bureau, a testing research group.

Governors attending the National Governors Association's Annual Meeting in Washington yesterday (Feb.27), expressed concern that the end result of Bush's proposal will be a nationwide test and eventually a nationwide curriculum.

Maine Gov. Angus King (I) said a national test would be logistically difficult for the states. And Pennsylvania's Gov. Tom Ridge (R) told stateline.org that if officials come to his state with a national test "they will be told to take their test and go back to Washington."

"America's greatness is attributed to the fact that we are 50 states and a national test could be detrimental. The federal government shouldn't get involved in testing - leave it to the states," said Raymond Gerson, a coordinator for New York School Superintendents.

The accountability part of standards-based reforms, which is determined by testing students, hasn't achieved the best reputation with school administrators or teachers either. If Bush's plan becomes law states and local school districts will be sanctioned or rewarded based on student test scores.

"Let's put the light of accountability on people that give the resources," said Maguire. To clarify who should be held accountable, he added, "the state legislatures, the Governors and the U.S. President."

Tags: Education