Zack Hutchins
Director of Communications

For Release — Tuesday, October 21, 2003


ALBANY—High academic standards and standardized tests based on them are essential to New York's efforts to prepare schoolchildren for jobs and higher learning, and New York should emphatically reject pressure to weaken its commitment to standards or testing, The Business Council is arguing before state lawmakers.

Business Council President Daniel B. Walsh will submit testimony before a joint hearing of the Senate and Assembly education committees on New York State's learning standards and high-school graduation requirements. The hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, October 22, in Albany.

"Standards, assessment (in the form of objective tests), and accountability are the three legs of the platform from which school improvement takes place. Weaken one and you weaken them all," Walsh said.

Good jobs, successful careers, and the pursuit of the American dream require more than an eighth-grade education or even a mere high school diploma, Walsh said. Kids need skills in reading, math, science, technology and communication skills. This requires continued learning beyond high schools, either at work or in college, Walsh said.

Previous reform efforts designed to enhance kids' learning failed because they lacked accountability and measurements of success, Walsh said. That's why institutions of higher education in New York, especially its community college, have long been required to invest countless dollars and hours in remedial teaching before many high-school graduates can continue with true college-level work.

Most people still agree on the need for high standards, but results from objective measurements of how well kids meet those standards produce "calls to go back to the old system that granted high school diplomas to students without giving them a decent education," Walsh said.

Some advocates urge a return to the days when school districts could develop their own ways to assess students' learning and award "local" diplomas. New York should accept such a retrenchment only "if the public-school system were to guarantee the knowledge and skills of its graduates," Walsh said.

"Such a guarantee would mean that remediation costs would be borne by the school district that gave the student the diploma."

Other advocates say easing standards might help the dropout rate. But no studies conclusively show any real increase in the dropout rate or any connection between dropouts and the Regents tests, Walsh noted.

And even if eliminating some or all Regents exams would reduce the dropout rate, "it wouldn't help students as they venture out into the world after high school - when they find out they don't know what they need to move forward in higher education or in a job," Walsh said.

Meeting New York's standards is indeed challenging, but many school districts have successfully embraced the challenge. For example, The Business Council's Pathfinder Award program for the last three years has honored 24 of the most improved elementary schools in New York State based on improvement in performance on standardized state tests, Walsh noted.

These improving schools say New York's tests have been a help, not a hindrance, he added.

"They tell us that without the fourth-grade tests, they wouldn't have made the upgrades in curriculum and instruction that enabled their students to be successful," Walsh's testimony said.

Walsh also corrected a common misconception that test results are the only standards for graduation. That's false. Students still must earn passing grades on required courses worth 22 credits - which means that "every grade a teacher gives counts."

Opponents of rigorous testing say New York's standardized tests are unfair—"but the real unfairness, which has been going on for years, is sending kids out into the world with a meaningless diploma," he said. "Knowledge is the base upon which critical thinking skills and love of learning are built. And it can be measured," Walsh said.

To create an optimum learning environment for kids requires "real accountability for results in the form of objective measures of knowledge acquisition like the Regents exams or their equivalents," he concluded.

"Data clearly show us that children in New York are learning more than a decade ago. We are on the right track and testing is a key component. Let's not get derailed now."