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Obsession with testing is doing great damage

On June 8, thousands of teachers, administrators, parents and students gathered in Albany to protest the egregious misuse of standardized testing in New York State. If this is understood to be saying no to any testing whatsoever, then the observer has seriously missed the point. In an Aug. 11 Viewpoints piece in The News, Norman Augustine did just that.

Properly and moderately used standardized testing is a vitally important part of the whole schooling picture. I teach English as a second language, and each year, my students take the NYSESLAT, a standardized test that measures their English proficiency and determines the amount of ESL teaching the student will receive the next school year. It is a fairly reliable test, and as such provides critically needed information.

However, the NYSESLAT is the only official measure allowed, and it sometimes errs badly, withholding needed teaching or keeping a student in ESL when the student is ready to exit. This is the nature of a high-stakes, standardized assessment, in which students have only one chance every year to show what they know, and it had better be a good day for them.

This was the normal situation a year or two ago, before New York State went test crazy. Today, students must take a test at the beginning of the school year in every subject area, even in social studies and science. In other words, we need to test students to determine that they indeed do not know what they have not yet learned.

Even such subjects as art, gym, and orchestra are tested. I wonder how a student’s accomplishments in painting, volleyball, or trumpet are revealed in a multiple-choice question.

The examples go on. In short, New York State’s current obsession with testing is doing great damage. Standardized tests do play a very important role in teaching, but they do have limitations, as any testing expert will warn. Far beyond that, the amount of testing is out of control, and it has a definite negative impact in the classroom. Let’s get the testing right.

Todd Mitchell

Buffalo