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Support for New York State Testing Program

A letter to Senator John R. Kuhl, Jr. from William F. Allyn, Robert B. Catell and R. Carlos Carballada, reaffirming business's support for tough education standards and tests based on them. The same letter was sent to Assemblyman Steven Sanders.

May 30, 2001

The Honorable John R. Kuhl, Jr.
Chairman, Senate Education Committee
Room 310
Legislative Office Building
Albany, New York 12247

Dear Senator Kuhl:

RE: New York State Testing Program

It’s a rare pupil who really likes to take a test in school. So it’s no surprise that a small group of educators who are resisting clear standards in our schools are now managing to stir up some protests against New York State’s standardized tests.

But it is extremely important that we stand behind our standards, and the tests that back them up.

New York State’s testing program includes the Regents’ exams required for high-school graduation, plus tests in the earlier years—fourth and eighth grades—that are needed to identify students (and schools) who are falling behind. This program is not onerous or excessive.

Nor does it stifle creativity. New York’s tests measure important skills and broad knowledge, rather than narrow topics that require rote memorization. There is no way of “teaching to” these tests without giving pupils a good education in the process. Without doubt, there are many fine school districts in New York State whose programs go far beyond what is covered in these tests. But their pupils can (and do) handle the state’s tests in stride.

Someone should remind those who protest the testing program that the schools themselves have made uniform testing a necessity. They have failed over many years to adopt and stick to high standards of their own. They have been turning out tens of thousands of high school “graduates” who lack even basic skills—and everybody knows it.

In Monroe County—one hotbed of protests claiming the tests are unnecessary—20 percent of the high-school graduates who enter the local community college must immediately be placed in a “developmental” (remedial) English course. We need uniform, minimum standards—because too many schools have had no standards.

As a taxpayer, I would also note that many schools seem to just love standardized tests—except when tests are required by the state, with results reported publicly. Districts buy and administer other standardized tests by the truckload. A single testing firm, CTB/McGraw Hill reports that about 70 percent of New York State school districts buy its tests every year. A typical district administers these commercially prepared tests, not a single one of which is required by (or reported to) the state, in the 3rd, 5th, 6th, and 7th grades. Pupils and parents who are concerned about the amount of time devoted to testing need to ask just how much of that time is on state-required tests.

Does every student in every district really need to be tested? Unfortunately, this is the only way to ensure that no school is allowed to backslide into the former practice of pushing out “graduates” who had not been given a real education.

Finally, it is clear that New York’s higher standards, and the tests that stand behind them, are working. This year The Business Council began giving “Pathfinder Awards” to elementary schools that are showing rapid improvement. In studying the 27 winners, we found that all of them were using test data to identify weaknesses and upgrade their programs. The tests weren’t a burden to the pupils; they were the key to a better education.

Like them or not, we need tests to ensure that our kids are getting the education they deserve — and that we taxpayers are paying for.

Sincerely,

William F. Allyn Robert B. Catell R. Carlos Carballada
Chairman Vice Chairman Chairman, Education Committee
Chairman and CEO, Chairman and CEO, Chairman, Rochester Fund
Welch Allyn KeySpan M&T Charitable Foundation
Ventures, LLC

Copy to Governor Pataki, Commissioner Mills, Board of Regents, Speaker Silver and Members of the Senate Education Committee