A principal in the Lancaster School District is retiring at the end of this school year in protest over “excessive” standardized testing of elementary school students and what she considers the time-consuming process now used to evaluate teachers.
Kathleen C. Knauth, who has served as principal of Hillview Elementary School for 10 years, is taking early retirement and plans to seek a job working as an advocate for children or education reform after she steps down June 28.
She said that she has nothing but warm feelings for the district but that she has grown increasingly disenchanted with the requirements imposed on students, faculty and administrators by the state Education Department.
“It is just so cumbersome,” Knauth said in an interview Friday.
Knauth’s retirement is the latest – and perhaps most notable – protest lodged against the controversial systems introduced by state education officials to measure the performance of students and their teachers.
Educators have strongly objected to the use of the new evaluations in employment decisions. And parents across New York have criticized the focus placed on testing young children, with some refusing to let their children take the exams.
“I’m glad she’s taking a stand, and I hope she will be heard,” said Yvonne Calabro, who is co-president of the Parent-Teacher Organization at Hillview.
Knauth’s decision has stirred up considerable reaction since she made her announcement April 26 in meetings with her superiors, with staff at Hillview and in a letter to the parents of her students.
The 56-year-old Knauth has worked as a teacher, school administrator and consultant for 36 years, including in the Clarence and Springville-Griffith Institute school districts. She took over at Hillview, which serves students in kindergarten through third grade, in 2003.
She said her love of her job has dimmed as she and her team at Hillview have put in place the mandated student-testing and teacher-evaluation systems.
“New York State is directing us to test and test your children, now starting in kindergarten and continuing every year after. It is excessive,” Knauth wrote in a letter to Hillview parents revealing why she chose to retire.
This testing puts pressure on even the highest-achieving students, Knauth said, and she also worries about its effect on students with special needs.
She pointed out to The Buffalo News that the New York section of the state bar exam, taken by law school graduates, lasts 375 minutes in one sitting – the mutlistate section of the bar exam takes 360 minutes on a second day – while the state’s assessments for 10-year-old students for math and English last 540 minutes over six days.
For 8-year-olds, it’s 420 minutes of testing, Knauth said.
“The question is: What are we doing?” she said.
Critics say the focus on preparing for and taking statewide tests leaves less time for other types of instruction beyond math and English.
A small but growing number of parents are boycotting the assessments by pulling their children from the exams.
The News reported last month that 110 students in the West Seneca district, 132 from the Hamburg Central School District and at least 64 in Springville-Griffith refused to take the tests this spring.
“There’s a lot of flaws in this system, and I hope this is a start to change it,” Calabro, who has three children in Lancaster schools, said of Knauth’s criticism of the testing.
Teachers and their union leaders in districts across the state are concerned that the students’ performance on these assessments will be used in employment decisions.
Knauth said she believes this practice is “destructive” to students and their teachers, and she said the new teacher-evaluation system required her to spend too much time entering data on her instructors into the computer.
She said that this left her little time to interact with her students and faculty, and that the inefficient new system replaced a perfectively effective evaluation method used for Lancaster teachers.
“We didn’t need all this,” Knauth said.
A spokesman for the state Education Department did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
Lancaster Superintendent Edward J. Myszka said Knauth is one of 21 employees taking an early-retirement incentive offered by the district.
“Mrs. Knauth has been a valued member of the administrative team for the last 10 years. She has contributed greatly to our educational program in Lancaster, as a leader, mentor and – most especially – caregiver-in-chief to the thousands of children who have walked the halls of Hillview Elementary during her tenure,” Myszka told The News.
The district will post the job opening next week and screen candidates over the next month or two, he said.
Knauth isn’t in a position to stop working because she and her husband have two children in college. She said she would love to get a job as an educational consultant.
“I’m sort of an activist at heart, but I’ve been quiet recently,” Knauth said.