Dean Biklen Participates in NYCLU Press Briefing on Alternatives to High Stakes Teacher Testing

On Wednesday, the New York Civil Liberties Union will hosted a press briefing featuring a panel of experts in public education, including the Dean of the School of Education at Syracuse University, to discuss the consequences of New York State’s over-reliance on high-stakes standardized testing and the need to support alternatives methods of assessing student progress.

Students of color, English language learners (ELLs) and children with special education needs are unduly punished by high-stakes assessments that are mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, and are increasingly used as instruments to close public schools and denigrate teachers, hurting the city’s most vulnerable youth.

Visit the NYCLU webpage and watch the video of the press briefing featuring:

  • Donna Lieberman, NYCLU Executive Director
  • Ann Cook, Executive Director of the New York Performance Standards Consortium, a coalition of New York State public high schools
  • Diane Ravitch, Research Professor of Education at New York University and Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution
  • Pedro Noguera, the Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education at New York University
  • Douglas Biklen, Dean of the School of Education at Syracuse University
  • Michelle Fine, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, Urban Education and Women’s Studies at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York

Dean Biklen’s Statement

The State’s plan to assess teachers based on student performance is cynical, flawed and an
impediment to school improvement.

Everyone knows that multiple factors influence school performance, including school leadership, resources, school culture, absenteeism/attendance rates, student mobility, family income, socialemotional supports, health and wellness of students, out of school experiences, length of the school day and school year, teacher preparation/professional development, and on-and-on.

Students are not tested in every grade and not at all for most subjects; possibly more than 80% of teachers will not be teaching students who are tested in the first year. So the system being touted as a system is hardly a system at all. Further, many classes have multiple adults in them, including teaching assistants, consulting teachers and others. Some are team-taught. In others, selected students leave the classroom for anywhere from 20% to 60% of the time. The system has no clear way of addressing these realities.

Assessing teachers by student test results draws the focus of educators away from teaching and learning. When I enter schools, I hear educators are talking about little else besides testing and test results. It is becoming increasingly rare to see teachers and administrators talking about students’ essays, their thinking processes related to science projects, or their creativity in the arts. Is this what we want?

Good education depends upon relationships between teachers and students, upon opportunities for students to practice what they are learning, upon student-to-student and student-to-teacher dialogue, all in the context of inquiry. Teaching to the test and test prepping actually undermine a spirit of inquiry and dialogue.

Additional harmful consequences of using student testing as the single most important measure for determining teacher quality are obvious:

  • Principals and teachers will be afraid to welcome students with disabilities, who are English Language Learners, who have emotional difficulties, who come to the school late in the year (in NYC, ‘over the counter’ kids) or who have a history of low performance into their classrooms.
  • Teachers will be reluctant to accept student teachers into their classrooms. Already we are hearing from higher education faculty around the state that schools are warning them about pending cutbacks in student teaching placements – and this is linked to teachers’ concerns about spending any time mentoring if it might detract in the slightest from them getting a favorable assessment.
  • Aspiring teachers as well as seasoned veterans with great reputations for innovative teaching will seek to avoid poorly funded, struggling urban schools where test scores have been low; teachers in low-performing (urban) schools will seek to move to high-performing (suburban) schools.

Teachers and students deserve better public policy.

Douglas Biklen