I am writing to you because some parents (and some staff, honestly) have questioned the value of standardized tests, and some parents have had their kids opt-out of the testing. These are the standardized tests we give:
Regents exams in 9th-12th grades
PSATs in 10th grade
SATs in 11th grade
NYS ELA and Math in 3rd-8th grades
NYS Science in 4th and 8th grades
For the most part the ones in question are the NYS 3rd-8th grade tests. So, let me tell you why standardized tests are a necessary part of any educational system, whether private schooling, home schooling or college entrance qualifications. They are needed as an outside, objective measure of how well we are doing.
Of course, the ultimate measure may be the “product” we’re turning out, that is graduates. I think by any measure that shows what a good job our teachers are doing. I wish you could hear some of the stories our alumni bring back from college… “I was one of only six kids in my class that didn’t need to take remedial math”; “My professor told me I was one of the best writers he’s seen this year.” They’re graduating as doctors, engineers, graphic artists and more. Maybe someday I‘ll publish a list – I’m pretty proud of them and our staff.
But that doesn’t mean we’re doing everything perfectly or that we can relax. There’s always room for improvement. That’s why we, along with virtually every school – private, Christian and public – have adopted standardized testing to keep us on track, to measure – in the middle of the process – our educational effectiveness. Externally-created tests are necessary 1) to avoid bias in evaluating ourselves, and 2) as a tool for finding and correcting weaknesses in our program.
Some parents have had their kids “opt out” of these tests, but if a group of students isn’t participating the tool becomes invalid. Because of that, and because the tool is so necessary, students will no longer be allowed to opt out of these tests.
The main concern I’ve heard from parents is that 3rd-8th grade tests are unduly stressful for the kids. I agree that can be the case, but I know it’s also largely unnecessary, and has a lot to do with the way the tests are led up to (at home and at school) and administered. If teachers or parents build up the tests ahead of time as “critically important” or “really difficult,” the kids are going to stress over that. Therefore, I’m instructing our teachers not to overemphasize the exams, and I’d suggest that parents not speak of these tests to their kids any differently than they would any other exam. Any review work leading up to the tests will be treated as every day, normal work. Then what will the kids have to be stressed about? I’ll also be working with the teachers on how to present the material on test days, so it’s as normal a test experience as possible
Can we eliminate every potential stress source? No, but why would we? That’s not possible, or even desirable, in any other part of life. So the tests will continue to look different than our norm, and they still take longer – two periods instead of one, and there are rules in place about leaving the classroom, but I think those are within acceptable parameters for our kids.
The other concern has been that the tests are produced by the State Education Dept. I’ve been asked why we don’t use a different source. There are three other widely used producers: The Stanford Achievement Tests for K-12, the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, and Terra Nova. The reality is that all four sources (these three and NYS) produce very similar tests and, quite frankly, all are quality tests. But we use the NYS tests for several reasons:
- In order to issue a Regents diploma we have to give the Regents exams. Unlike the other tests, the 3rd-8th grade NYS tests are specifically leading toward that objective.
- Our teachers and administration have evaluated the NYS tests and, contrary to the hype in the media and on Facebook, have found them to be quality tests. We recognize that when the new tests were issued several years ago, the Ed. Dept. rushed them out and they were less than stellar – we were as critical as any. However, they have been vastly improved since then but, unfortunately, the first impression has lingered.
- We also often tend to disparage anything done by “THE STATE,” but the fact is that the Education Dept. realized their error, spent two years listening to us (educators, parents, etc.) took the input and did a terrific job revamping the material. Beginning with the coming school year they also shortened each test from three days to two. Also, the tests are not timed – as long as a student is consistently working, they can take as long as they need. There is no pressure to rush through.
- NYS tests don’t cost us anything. The others vendors are fairly expensive. Some of you could afford higher tuition to make up the difference, but most of our families cannot. One of my jobs is keeping FLCS affordable to as many people as possible…also applicable to the next point:
- Besides being no cost, the State Education Department actually reimburses the school for the hours spent by our staff administering and scoring the tests. Every time a student opts out that reimbursement gets cut. This school year the reimbursement amounted to about 10% of the school budget, and since our budget barely breaks even every year, that 10% is very significant.
Just like you parents, we don’t want any more testing than necessary. But standardized tests are necessary, essential evaluation tool for your kids’ progress and our staff’s continuing improvement.
Feel free to get back to me with your thoughts.