Friday, December 13, 2013

Senator Flanagan's early Christmas gift to testing critics

Posted by on Fri, Dec 13, 2013 at 10:04 AM

Many parents, teachers, and education advocates may be sighing with relief today. The reason? At least some of their concerns about high-stakes testing, implementation of the more rigorous Common Core curriculum, and teacher evaluations have been heard by New York State Senator John Flanagan. After five hearings, Flanagan issued a report yesterday that might cause the state Education Department, Commissioner John King, and the Board of Regents to step back and re-evaluate.

While the report is by no means a scathing indictment, it’s not complementary, either.

Flanagan, a Republican who represents a portion of Suffolk County on Long Island, chairs the State Education Committee. Some of Flanagan’s recommendations include: having the SED apply for waivers from the US Department of Education to relax testing requirements on students with disabilities and English language learners, immediately providing Common Core curriculum modules for teachers who are missing them or for whom the modules are incomplete, and increasing funding for professional development.

Flanagan has indicated that he will introduce legislation to ban testing of pre-K to second-grade students, eliminate unnecessary student assessments, ensure student privacy and establish stiff civil and criminal penalties for violations, and require Commissioner King to get an independent audit of the Common Core's effectiveness.

While Flanagan’s report mirrors in many places complaints from parents and teachers, the way the report is written is unmistakably snarky in some places. He writes that there were “no shortages” of people willing to voice their concerns.

At one point he asks, “Who is in charge? Is anyone listening?” At another he says, “Pre-test, post-test, standardized test, bubble test, ‘high-stakes’ tests – all these tests magnified the overwhelming refrain that there is too much testing and not enough learning.” It's almost a test to get through the sentence.

But one of the report’s most revealing comments is a question Flanagan raises about the New York Board of Regents. Flanagan says the Regents are essentially absentee landlords, not connected to the policies they help create or how they are implemented in the classroom. Most parents and teachers don’t even know who their Regents are, Flanagan says in the report.

Flanagan’s observation seems to validate a criticism of reform-minded education officials who are often accused of issuing edicts with little input from parents and teachers. Flanagan’s report isn’t exactly the Christmas present opponents of the Common Core and standardized testing have asked for – King’s resignation and a moratorium on testing – but it is a nice stocking stuffer.

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