An engaging and interactive discussion recently led by a distinguished panel of prominent educators took place among more than two-dozen members of the New York Academy of Public Education (NYAPE) who gathered at Fordham Lincoln Center. The discussions addressed timely and sometimes controversial topics surrounding testing credibility in assessing student achievement and school performance, including: admission examinations for New York City specialized high schools; the phase-out of Regents Examinations; and the admission process for New York City performing and fine arts programs and gifted and talented programs.
NYAPE President Giovanna Delucchi, PhD, began the program with welcome remarks and an introduction of panel moderator John C. Jangl, a long time New York City Department of Education (NYC-DOE) employee and Triad Educational Consultants, Inc. founder. Panel members began the discussion by agreeing with the general premise that student testing is mostly overdone, particularly given that each child excels in different ways and shines in various settings.
Expert educational consultant and advocate Abja Midha, JD, leader of the Work-Based Learning Labs team at educational support organization HERE to HERE, put it this way: “All different methods for [student]assessment should be used.” More specifically, Council of School Supervisors and Administrators (CSA) President Mark Cannizzaro added that traditional testing and assessment scores often greatly (and perhaps disproportionately) affect students’ high school and college admissions. For example, student test scores may be considered in assessing achievement more than other measures, such as GPA, because the GPA number is often complicated by the fact that some schools weight GPA’s and some do not, making valid comparisons difficult. Finally, Cannizzaro asked, “While New York State Regents exams aren’t perfect, what would replace them?”
The discussion then turned to addressing use of exam scores even earlier in students’ educational careers, specifically to assess students for high school admission. Stony Brook University educational leadership professor Craig Markson, EdD, shared the following from his research: “Testing actually reveals the level of poverty of students.” He noted recent research has proven the strong correlation between high scores and high family income, as well as the strong correlation between low scores and low family income. The research, in fact, affirmed that student attendance rates, even in middle school, ultimately had the greatest effect on student achievement, as measured by high school graduation rates. In panelist and parent advocate Naomi Peña’s even more pointed view, “Competitive admission high schools have fallen victim to the testing industry, and [standardized]testing can be considered racist.”
Freeport Union Free School District’s Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, Maryann DeVivio, agreed. “I think we have to ask the question, what is college and career ready? How will we use standardized test scores (both Regents exams and AP exams), GPA, attendance, and perhaps other measures to assess student preparation for college?” DeVivio noted these questions must be asked, if only because curriculum standards and learning focus in schools have changed significantly, but content on the Regents exams has not. This situation, according to Midha, means that “using multiple measures of students is very important, such as performance-based assessments; there simply must be use of various measures to fairly assess student progress.”
The discussion of performance-based assessments prompted an attendee to ask the panel about whether the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) is still given in any schools. Jangl informed the group that currently, the ASVAB is not often administered. Senior NYC-DOE advisor Randy Asher added that the exam is usually only given in association with Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) programs, and that this particular exam does address “work-based learning experiences.” He noted further, “under ESSA (The Every Student Succeeds Act), schools can get credit for both academic and work-based learning programs.” However, he elaborated that teachers for vocational and career and technical education (CTE) programs are very hard to find.
Retired NYC principal John Mancini believes that one key to boosting CTE instruction is to bring employers to the table to help with student development, project-based learning, and “hands-on experiences that keep kids in school,” because “one size fits all [college]doesn’t work for every student.” He lamented that political realities often negatively affect many possibilities for change in this direction, and that although certainly not unprecedented, partnerships with industry are often hard to create and sustain.
Brooklyn College Professor David C. Bloomfield, pointing to the focus and curriculum themes for specialized high schools, addressed the current controversy surrounding admission to those schools by stating, “Quota systems are not the answer to making specialized high schools more diverse.” In fact, he believes that fixing the issues with admission to specialized high schools means looking at testing differently; acknowledging that teacher inequity/quality across NYC schools is an issue; that free test prep programs haven’t worked; and that, ultimately, there’s no magic cure.”
In closing remarks, NYAPE President-Elect and GSE Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Anthony Cavanna summarized, “Different schools are better for different kids, and we shouldn’t forget, as an example, that specialized high schools don’t serve English Language Learner (ELL) and special education students very well.” He concluded that when education focuses on performance-based assessment, such as at High Tech High in San Diego, “we don’t [need to]change things that don’t work, [because we]“create things that do work.”
Food for thought.