January 9, 2014

New York is “Test Crazy,” Says Sean Feeney, Ph.D., in Finkelstein Lecture

by Cecil Harris

New York State students are being given too many tests in a process that does not lead to a proper evaluation of students, teachers or principals, argued Sean Feeney, Ph.D., in the annual Robert and Augusta Finkelstein Memorial Lecture at Adelphi University on October 30.

In his lecture, “Accountability in the Age of Pearson: Advocating for What Works in Schools,” Dr. Feeney, principal of The Wheatley School in Old Westbury, New York, said the frequency of overlong tests has increased dramatically since the State passed an Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) law in 2010, requiring the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers and principals.

“Since APPR, we have become test crazy,” read one slide in Dr. Feeney’s presentation at the University’s Performing Arts Center.

Dr. Feeney cited statistics showing a rise in the total minutes of testing in English language arts and math for grades 3–8 in New York from 2008–2013: grade 3 testing went from 160 minutes to 420, an increase of 163 percent; grade 4 testing increased by 47 percent; grade 5 by 227 percent; grade 6 by 112 percent; grade 7 by 184 percent; and grade 8 by 69 percent. 

The issue of excessive testing is hardly limited to New York, as Dr. Feeney made clear during the lecture sponsored by the Ruth S. Ammon School of Education.

One amusing slide of an editorial cartoon from The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, showed a student asking his teacher, “Is this the test to test us for the test to see if we are ready for the test?”

The results from all this testing, Dr. Feeney asserted, are reduced academic scores; students labeled as failures being forced out of classes; ineffective evaluation of teachers and principals, which threatens their employment status; and increased costs to school districts as tax money is redirected to testing companies for correction and analysis of exams.

“We have moved so far away from what we should be doing,” Dr. Feeney said. “As a society, I would love to see all the money being spent on faux education reforms go to areas of great need, such as addressing poverty, low expectations and other societal problems in certain communities.”

Dr. Feeney said the frequency of tests and the test results are being used to help the education company Pearson fulfill the terms of its $32 million contract with New York State. Dr. Feeney is one of eight principals to sign a letter to State Education Commissioner John King, Ph.D., expressing criticism of the APPR law. However, Dr. King dismissed the principals’ concerns, he said.

Offering solutions to the problem, Dr. Feeney cited measures that have been successfully implemented in other parts of the country. In Montgomery County, Maryland, for instance, those deemed master teachers serve as mentors for struggling teachers. As for improving students’ academic performance, Dr. Feeney advocated less testing and more teaching and nurturing.

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