‘Something is wrong when….”

 

This past summer, New York high school Principals Carol Burris and Harry Leonadartos attempted to testify about school reform before New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Education Commission in New York City.  They were not given the opportunity to speak, and they wrote about it in this post. Yesterday the commission — which is chaired by former Citibank chairman Dick Parsons — visited Long Island and Burris was allowed to speak. She received a standing ovation when she was done. Below is her testimony.

Burris is the principal of South Side High School in Rockville Centre, New York and a co-author of the New York Principals letter of concern regarding the evaluation of teachers by student scores. Over 1,500 New York principals and more than 5,400 teachers, parents, professors, administrators and citizens have signed the letter which can be found here.

Testimony by Carol Burris:

Thank you very much for this opportunity. My name is Carol Burris, principal of South Side High School in Rockville Centre. I was an assistant principal, a teacher, a school board member and a board president. I am but one of many dedicated educators on Long Island. A remarkable 33% of all of the Reward Schools in the State of New York are in Nassau and Suffolk counties. If Long Island were a state, we would be first in the nation.

Long Island is also where the principals’ letter in opposition to APPR, the evaluation system, began. That letter is signed by 80% of all of Long Island’s principals along with more than 1500 other principals across the state, and thousands of parents and teachers. We are not afraid to be evaluated nor are we afraid to evaluate our teachers — those who claim we are simply “anxious” do not know us at all.

 In the testimony which I submitted, I explain why APPR will not improve teaching and will negatively impact the learning of our students. Rather than repeat that reasoning, Mr. Chairman, I would pose this scenario instead. Suppose the legislature decided that the solution to the financial crisis was to mandate an evaluation system for every loan officer in the state, even mandating a value added metric to be used. Suppose that 80% of your best managers and vice presidents told you that using that inaccurate metric was going to hurt, not help Citibank. Mr. Chairman, would you have complied, or would you have resisted in order to save your bank?

 

The obsession with test based evaluations of students, schools and teachers is tearing the schools we love apart. Something is very wrong when nine year olds sit for tests that are longer than the SAT and the Graduate Record Examination combined.

 

Something is wrong when policymakers contemplate tests for kindergarteners to predict whether they are on the path to college readiness.

 

Something is wrong when my students must take a pre-test comprised of Regents Physics questions BEFORE they have taken the course, so that their teachers can be evaluated.

 

Thank goodness my school does not offer sky diving! It sounds irrational — it is. Worst of all, taxpayer dollars and instructional days are being wasted.

Parents get it. They are opting out of testing. From Niagara Falls to Long Island they are uniting against the proliferation of standardized tests, and test based reform.

 

At the same time, the most critical reasons for poor student achievement are being ignored. As I documented in my testimony, New York is ranked number 4 in inequitable funding. Among the states in the Northeast, New York State is #1 in childhood poverty. We are at the top of the list for racially and socioeconomically segregated schooling.

 

I ask you to recommend that the millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars used for multi-day testing, test security and shredding, APPR and the creation of student data systems be dedicated instead to wrap around services for poor children and to fund excellent pre-schools and to the classrooms of New York that need it the most.

 

I ask you to recommend that the governor visit Long Island Schools and study just how well disadvantaged students can do if their school is not overwhelmed and has sufficient resources.

 

Some of the best schools in the nation are here on Long Island. In our schools that have ample support systems and not extraordinary poverty, students who receive free or reduced price lunch excel.

 

I understand that it is far more popular to blame teachers, tenure, unions, and principals. However, by ignoring the core reasons — that account for 85% of the variance in student performance — you do not make things better, and you risk making our schools worse as dollars flow to the wrong solutions.

 

I thank you for your service on this committee. I truly appreciate your visit to Long Island. Come visit our schools and speak with our teachers and us. We understand quality and we practice it. Thank you for considering my testimony.

 

 

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss · October 12, 2012