Eric Mihelbergel, of Kenmore, is part of a growing legion of parents who believe that the quality of their children’s education is being sacrificed to excessive standardized tests they say are increasingly mandated by the state.
Mihelbergel, a member of Western New Yorkers for Public Education, on Thursday hosted a forum at which he urged other parents to have their children opt out of these tests, which, he argued, are not fair or helpful evaluation tools to gauge student performance.
“It’s excessive to the point where students are giving up about 25 percent of the academic school year for tests that don’t count for the students. Instead, these are tests that count to evaluate the teachers, the principals, the schools and the school districts,” he said.
“I am fully in favor of assessments on the local level, particularly at the teacher level. The teacher designs the tests. She knows the students. She knows what students need help in what areas … and she knows how to test to see if they’ve accomplished that learning objective,” he added.
About 40 people, roughly half of them parents and the other half educators from across the region, attended Thursday’s forum, which was held in Kenmore Alliance Church, 175 Bonnett Ave., Town of Tonawanda. Mihelbergel, who has two daughters enrolled in the Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School District, and others who attended the forum took pains to make it clear that their beef was less with their respective school districts and more with mandates handed down from Albany.
“My kids go to Ken-Ton, which is a wonderful school district. I went to Ken-Ton myself. My wife also went to Ken-Ton, and it’s been a fabulous school district, and they have been fairly supportive of parents who are refusing to let their kids take the test. There have been different stances taken at different school districts in regards to this,” Mihelbergl said.
Excessive testing, he said, forces teachers to “teach to the test” instead of nurturing higher-order thinking skills; creates corruption among schools by encouraging some schools to cheat on test scoring to get better evaluations; and saps the joy of learning from children.
Robert Mahany, of Orchard Park, said he intended to see to it that his youngest son opts out of the next standardized test administered by the Orchard Park School District.
“I’m in this room here because I have a 10-year-old at home who is not receiving the same education as his two older brothers received, or what I received generations ago,” Mahany said.
“Every week, it’s getting more and more absurd from what Albany is telling our districts that [they] must do as a board member. It’s getting to the point where next week, they’re going to say: ‘OK, board members, you need to dance on top of a desk juggling cats on fire.’ Every week, it gets worse and worse and worse,” he added.
However, Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda School Board President Robert Dana cautioned parents to first consider the repercussions for the entire school district, particularly those districts that rely heavily on state financial aid to balance their budgets.
“The opt-out program, the opt-out movement, has the potential of doing harm to school districts, some more than others,” said Dana.
“If you’re successful with your movement, which would cause an attendance rate of under 95 percent, we’re going to have negative impacts,” he added.