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June 7, 2001

Top business leaders reaffirm Council's support for education standards

Three top leaders of New York State's business community — and of The Business Council — have strongly reaffirmed business's support for tough education standards and tests based on them.

"It is extremely important that we stand behind our standards and the tests that back them up," the three business leaders said in a letter delivered June 6 to Governor Pataki, Commissioner of Education Rick Mills, members of the state Board of Regents, and leaders and members of the state Assembly.

The letter was prompted by recent protests against standards and tests that were, in some cases, supported by some teachers and some parents. The letter was signed by: William F. Allyn, chairman and CEO of Welch Allyn Ventures, LLC; Robert B. Catell, chairman and CEO of KeySpan; and R. Carlos Carballada, chairman of the Rochester Fund and the M&T Charitable Foundation. Allyn and Catell are chairman and vice chairman, respectively, of The Business Council; Carballada, who is former chancellor of the state Board of Regents, is chairman of The Council's education committee.

New York State conducts mandatory testing of fourth- and eighth-grade students, with the goal of identifying students and schools that are falling behind. It also requires all high-school students to pass Regents' exams in order to graduate.

"This program is not onerous or excessive. Nor does it stifle creativity," the letter said.

"New York's tests measure important skills and broad knowledge, rather than narrow topics that require rote learning," the letter said. "There is no way of 'teaching to' these tests without giving pupils a good education in the process."

The letter noted the it was poor school performance that made more rigorous state standards and tests necessary in the first place. "[Schools] have failed over many years to adopt and stick to high standards of their own," the letter said. "They have been turning out tens of thousands of high-school 'graduates' who lack even basic skills — and everybody knows it."

The letter cited the experience of Monroe County, where "20 percent of high-school graduates who enter the local community college must immediately be placed in a 'developmental' (remedial) English Course."

The letter also noted that, on their own, many schools buy and administer many standardized tests, with one testing firm, CTB/McGraw Hill reporting that about 70 percent of New York State school districts buy its tests each year. Schools' objections to standardized tests surface mainly when tests "are required by the state, with results reported publicly," the letter noted.

"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," the letter said.

Both standards and tests based on them are already producing positive results, the letter noted. The Business Council this year gave 27 New York State schools "Pathfinder Awards," which recognize improvement in test scores on required state tests.

"In studying the 27 winners, we found that all of them were using test data to identify weaknesses and upgrade their programs," the letter said. "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 geting the education they deserve — and that we taxpayers are paying for," the letter concluded. Click here for the full text of the letter.