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By Tim Kennedy

Irish poet and Nobel Prize winner William Butler Yeats once said, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” Learning is not a destination, but a journey. Attending school is not just about high-stakes tests, but about setting our young people on a path to be lifelong learners.

Ten years ago, New York State third-graders were required to take 625 minutes of state exams, which is a lot of time for kids that age. This year, the state rolled out another round of exams that require kids from grades three through eight to sit through a whopping 3,200 minutes worth of tests.

Every day, I hear from parents and teachers about the damaging effects of these high-pressure, high-stakes tests. Children are losing out on instructional time in all subjects, from science to foreign languages.

I’ve heard stories of little children coming home crying, anxious about the consequences of scoring poorly on tests. Dedicated, talented teachers are being pushed to the brink by the stress placed on them to ensure every student performs at his or her peak when the all-important tests are put in front of them.

Every teacher I know believes that testing has its place, but what teachers and parents are saying in unison is simple: Let’s get it right.

The implementation of these tests has been problematic. The educators, who have been trying to prepare students and implement the high-stakes tests, tell me the support they’ve received has been less than stellar. Teachers, students and parents have not been given the time to fully cover the state’s new, more rigorous curriculum.

Additionally, I am encouraging the department to give a full account of the time and money – millions of taxpayer dollars – spent on standardized tests, some of which are developed by commercial entities. And we should shift the focus from imposing hours and hours of tests on young children, to encouraging growing and learning. The Truth About Testing package that I am co-sponsoring in the Senate would advance these goals.

My parents had a simple philosophy for raising kids – they told us to work hard and focus on our education. That’s a philosophy my wife and I are committed to sharing with our children, but I believe a “focus on education” means a focus on learning, not just testing. Over-testing and over-stressing children undercuts what every parent and teacher wants: to light a fire of learning that will last a lifetime.

Tim Kennedy, D-Buffalo, represents the 63rd District in the New York State Senate.