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The Answers

A column on education in Watkins Glen

The following was written by Travis Durfee, President of the Watkins Glen Faculty Association. It is the 15th in a continuing series of monthly columns.

Good Ideas Bloom in Albany this Spring

If April showers bring May flowers, then last week’s action by the state Assembly presented a bouquet to New York State’s public schools.

On May 2, the Assembly passed a bill that would remove the mandatory use of student scores on state tests from school accountability and teacher evaluation. This is a big deal in an era when student tests have been perverted to measure school performance.

These tests were never designed to measure educator effectiveness nor school success. Student test scores should be diagnostic -- they help teachers analyze student learning and plan for growth throughout the school year.

Can Jane read with fluency in September?
How well does Johnny compute complex equations halfway through the year?
Where are the gaps?

When tests provide answers to these questions educators can better focus our instruction. Testing is a useful tool. Testing is not the issue. The use of these tests as high stakes exams has been the problem for several years running. When the exams become the measure of a school’s performance, a new goal is created -- teaching to the test.

If we focus solely on the results, whether fearing a negative job performance review or a school rating that leads to a reduction in state aid, then the tests demand too much focus.

The Opt Out movement has made it clear: parents are fed up with the state’s over-reliance on standardized testing. The test-and-punish cycle has sucked the joy out of the classroom. Last week’s legislation passed by the Assembly would help put the focus back on what matters most in our classrooms -- teaching and learning.

The bill gives local districts the flexibility to curtail unnecessary testing and would help restore the faith of parents and educators by ensuring that results are being used for educationally sound reasons. Kudos to our state representatives in the Assembly for the commitment to public education.

But, the fight is not over. The bill must pass the NYS Senate before making it to the governor’s desk for his signature and passage into law.

A companion bill (S. 8301) exists in the NYS Senate. The bill would return control over teacher evaluations to local school districts and teachers, allowing them to collectively bargain performance review systems that help teachers grow professionally while meeting the unique needs of their students.

Further, the bill would benefit students by prohibiting the use of these exam scores in a student’s permanent record.

The bipartisan bill has been referred to the NYS Senate Education Committee. Our New York State United Teachers colleagues in Albany report that 77% of state senators support the bill. At present, our local state senator, Tom O’Mara, is not a sponsor nor a cosponsor to the legislation. We would welcome his whole-hearted endorsement of the legislation that returns control over education back to educators.

We encourage supporters of public education to reach out to Sen. O’Mara’s office to voice your support for the bill.

Also, be sure to urge State Sen. Majority Leader John Flanagan to bring the bill to the floor for a vote. Visit this site for more details:

Let us teach! Let them learn.

Travis Durfee
Watkins Glen Faculty Association

Photo in text: Travis Durfee.

© The Odessa File 2018
Charles Haeffner
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