Parents, members of the Board of Education and community members joined the New Haven Public School Advocates on Thursday evening to discuss a hot topic in education: standardized testing.
At the meeting, which took place at the Fair Haven Library, Board of Education members criticized having “high-stakes testing” as an integral part of public school curricula. Approximately 40 people attended the event. The conversation largely surrounded why parents would prefer to opt out of standardized testing and partake in alternative metrics by which schools can track the progress of their students. Multiple parents gave testimony of their decisions to opt out of state testing. One such parent was Tamiko Jackson-McArthur, a member of the Board of Education. Leslie Blatteau, a NHPS Advocate and a social studies teacher at Metropolitan Business Academy Interdistrict Magnet High School, said the advocates wanted to listen to the community and support what community members want to do about alternative testing options.
“We wanted to bring community members together to start reflecting on the impact of testing on our schools and imagine other possible ways that we can engage students and families in school that aren’t so reliant on these narrow, high stakes tests,” Blatteau said. “We are going to support people if they want to opt-out.
Connecticut students participate in a variety of state exams, depending on their age range. According to the state’s website, this includes tests administered for all ages, such as the English Language Proficiency assessment, and more tailored exams such as the Next Generation Science Standards, which is administered to students in the fifth, eighth and 11th grades. Newly inaugurated Justin Elicker has repeatedly referenced his opposition to the overemphasis on testing in New Haven.
Attendees made a list of critiques surrounding standardized testing, including claims that these tests do not properly reflect an individual student’s intelligence, is not fully in line with school curricula and creates a stressful environment for students.
“High stakes testing does not take into account the social wellbeing of children,” Jackson-McArthur said.
Community members and board members acknowledged a concern that high opt out rates within the school district could lead to a financial rebuke at the state level. In December 2015, the Connecticut Department of Education enacted funding penalties for school districts in which more than 10 percent of students opting out of state exams for two consecutive years.
Matt Wilcox, the vice president of the Board of Education, emphasized the role of the state in funding New Haven Public Schools.
“The entire place runs on the states money,” Wilcox said. “So we have to be sensitive to the state’s metric system that we have to work within.”
According to a Feb. 10 presentation by New Haven Public Schools Chief Financial Officer Phillip Penn, a 67 percent of NHPS school funding comes from the state, as compared to 15 percent from local taxes and 17 percent from federal grants.
Jackson-McArthur said that while she opts out of state testing for her children, she opposes standardized state testing on a personal level, rather than in her capacity as a member of the Board of Education. However, she said that financial hurdles at the state level could be overcome by a popular movement.
“I think that only a radical movement is going to create change,” Jackson-McArthur said at the meeting. “If we are not radical about this type of testing and what it does to the children of New Haven, then we are going to continue to have young ladies and young men who feel less than.”
Parents and community leaders said that opting out of standardized exams was stigmatized differently across racially and ethnic lines. Jackson-McArthur said that black and brown parents are treated differently when they decide to opt their students out of state exams — they are “told that you can’t” or that “they don’t understand that really means [to opt out of state exams]”, according to Jackson-McArthur.
The event featured a panel of experts and community leaders, multiple of whom advocated for performance-based assessments as an alternative option to standardized testing.
A performance-based assessment is a long-term assignment that educators design specifically for students, aiming to evaluate them based on the school’s curriculum, according to Metropolitan Business Academy Principal Judy Puglisi.
Bringing this form of testing into schools “allows teachers to make a high-quality assessment that aligns with the curriculum,” Puglisi said during the panel discussion.
Puglisi, who implemented this form of testing at Metropolitan Business Academy, upheld performance based assessments as a better alternative to standardized testing. It gives teachers and administrators a higher degree of autonomy in deciding what is appropriate for their students, according to Puglisi.
Performance based assessments also give more students more choice in what they will be evaluated on. Flor Jimeniz, a senior at Metropolitan Business Academy, has been able to study Black and Latinx history.
“It’s really open to what we want to learn,” Jimeniz said. “What we pick is what we really love and are really passionate about. And that’s not given to everybody, so I’m grateful for that.”
There are 170 school districts in Connecticut.
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