Tuesday, April 23, 2013
An example of administrator honesty shared with me
On behalf of the teachers and staff of the Wantagh Elementary School,
I would like to welcome you back to school. I anticipate that the
2012-13 academic year will prove to be an exciting year.
We are all enthusiastic about the arrival of our new superintendent,
Mr. D’Angelo, and the promise of a fresh vision for the academic
well-being of our school district. Also, Mrs. Chowske will be joining
our WES staff, functioning as our school’s Elementary Supervisor [aka,
Assistant Principal]. The future is bright as we move forward with the
implementation of our Writers' Workshop program expanding into our
fourth grade and kindergarten. This year we will also initiate a new
K-5 math program called enVisionMATH. This program not only meets the
national Common Core standards for Math but does so with enhanced
technological experiences for our children.
One significant issue as we move into this new school year is that we
will, at times, find it difficult if not impossible to teach authentic
application of concepts and skills with an eye towards relevancy. What
we will be teaching students is to be effective test takers; a skill
that does not necessarily translate into critical thinking – a skill
set that is necessary at the college level and beyond. This will
inevitably conflict with authentic educational practice – true
Unfortunately, if educators want to survive in the new, Albany-created
bureaucratic mess that is standardized assessments to measure teacher
performance, paramount to anything else, we must focus on getting kids
ready for the state assessments. This is what happens when
non-educators like our governor and state legislators, textbook
publishing companies (who create the assessments for our state and
reap millions of our tax dollars by doing so), our NYS Board of
Regents, and a state teachers' union president get involved in
creating what they perceive as desirable educational outcomes and
decide how to achieve and measure them. Where were the opinions of
teachers, principals, and superintendents? None were asked to
participate in the establishment of our new state assessment
parameters. Today, statisticians are making educational decisions in
New York State that will impact your children for years to come.
Standardized assessment has grown exponentially. For example, last
year New York State fourth graders, who are nine or ten years old,
were subjected to roughly 675 minutes (over 11 hours) of state
assessments which does not include state field testing. This year
there will be a state mandated pre-test in September and a second
mandated pre-test in January for all kindergarten through fifth grade
students in school. In April, kindergarten through fifth grade
students will take the last test [assessment] for the year.
Excessive testing is unhealthy. When I went to school I was never
over-tested and subsequently labeled with an insidious number that
ranked or placed me at a Level 1, Level 2, Level 3 or Level 4 as we do
today. Do you want your child to know their assigned ‘Level’? What
would the impact be on their self-esteem and self-worth at such a
Of additional concern to me is the relationship between children and
their teacher as we move into an era where teacher job status is based
upon student assessment scores. Guess what, some children will become
more desirable than others to have in class! And, conversely, others
will be less desirable. There, I wrote it! That concept is blasphemy
in our school where teachers live to prepare children to be productive
learners and members of society. Teachers state-wide are worried that
their relationship with students might change when they are evaluated
based upon their students’ test scores. Teachers want to educate
students, not test prep them for job security.
Additionally, what should be shocking to you as a parent is that state
and national databases are being created in order to analyze and store
students’ test scores – your child’s assessment results and your
child’s school attendance! Do you realize that the state has mandated
that classroom teachers must take attendance during every math, ELA,
social studies and science lesson – everyone, every day for the entire
school year! Those records are sent to the state and become
statistically part of the teacher evaluation process. It will no
longer be enough that your child ‘was in school.’ Rather, if he or she
was at a band lesson or out of the room for extra help in reading and
a math lesson was taking place in class, he or she will be noted as
absent from that instruction. That will be factored into the teacher
evaluation. Thinking of taking your child to Disney World for a week
during the school year or leaving a day or two early for a long
weekend skiing? Think again! Those absences will be recorded as
illegal, missed seat time and sent to the state – as mandated by the
This is all part of the massive, multi-million tax-payer dollar
teacher evaluation processes started by our Commissioner of Education,
our governor, and our state legislators and fully supported by
statisticians employed by the state and assessment-making companies.
No one in Albany is selecting to see the end of the journey; that 98
percent of the students graduating from Wantagh Schools go on to two-
and four-year colleges. Their myopic view is focused on the ‘parts’,
not the whole. Who will eventually suffer? Your children!
The balance must now be struck between maintaining the special nature
of an elementary school setting and the cold and calculating final
analysis rendered by statistics. The use of assessment data to drive
instruction is a tenet of good educational practices. The use of
assessment data to render a yearly prognostication of teacher
competency is ridiculous.
You have the greatest impact on your child’s school performance. Each
teacher only has your children for 180 days per year and for less than
six hours per day [minus lunch and recess times, art, music, and
physical education classes]. It is our expectation that as partners in
your child’s education, you will be doing your part as well. As part
of any evaluation of student performance, Albany must simultaneously
be asking parents the following questions:
Does your child read at home each day for at least twenty minutes?
Do you read to your child every day?
Are math facts gone over daily until they are known automatically?
Is there a quiet location in the house for homework time and do you
check your child’s homework each night?
Is your child sent to school ready for the day with a good breakfast
following at least eight hours of sleep?
Are after school activities monitored so that your child is not
‘overbooked’ and their stamina compromised?
Is your child in school daily [except when they are sick] and not
taken out of school for any reason other than illness?
We will continue to have field trips, assemblies, and special school
events but some events will be curtailed or rescheduled with an eye
toward prudent times during the school year to maximize student seat
time. However, it is unmistakable that we have entered into a new era
of educational practice with higher stakes than ever before.
I look forward to working with you and your child as we start our new
school year because….together we make a difference.
Don Sternberg, Ed.D.