Ridgewood Mom: Boycott Standardized Tests

“After 27 years in education, I can’t imagine a standardized test that will capture authentic learning,” Jean McTavish tells northjersey.com.

One Ridgewood parent's two sons won't be stressing out about standardized tests this week.

Jean McTavish, a New York City school principal, told The Record that she's protesting the NJ ASK tests; her ten-year-old and thirteen-year-old children will skip the ASKs this week.

“After 27 years in education, I can’t imagine a standardized test that will capture authentic learning,” McTavish told the paper in early April. 

She's among many joining the nationwide movement to end the standardized testing.

“Our children are more than test scores! Join us in our fight to save public education!" she tweeted on April 14.

While state code says students "shall" take the tests, there are no codified penalties, The Record reported.

The news website quoted Ridgewood superintendent Dan Fishbein as saying he "understands" the rationale to skip the test.

New Jersey governor Chris Christie has made student performance on standardized tests a larger element by which the state evaluates teachers.

What do you think? Should parents opt out?

East Sider mom May 23, 2013 at 07:03 PM
This is a story, Kevin because the current curriculum is structured to teach to the test scores--not to teach for the benefit of understanding the concepts. Oh and my kids were very stressed about the tests. Jean has a valid argument and I am in complete agreement. I grew up in NYC, had a terrific education in Brooklyn, and never had the amount of standardized tests required nowadays here in NJ. I'd like to see the data that shows how these standardized tests have benefited the students--not their test scores. Test scores are not necessarily an indication of intelligence or proof of comprehensive learning, rather it is indicative of good test preparation. GO JEAN!
Ridgewood Mom May 23, 2013 at 09:00 PM
To be clear, Scruffy, I am not the mom who wrote this article. I am not a leader in a school, nor do I work in public schools in any capacity. I am a different mom, who also has kids in the Ridgewood Public School system.
Ridgewood Mom May 23, 2013 at 09:04 PM
It is fine with me that you place more value on certain things that you deem to be "academic" then on other things that you distinguish as "activities." That is a reflection of your particular interests. I would hope to encourage you in pursuing those interests. Personally, I don't have such a cut and dry, black and white, view of what sort of knowledge and learning activities are meaningful. I think that there are many different sorts of things that can be right for different sorts of people. I certainly don't think that sort of curriculum pushed by these tests constitutes much in the way of what every pupil really needs to needs to know, much less any sort of monopoly on meaningful learning. It is worth noting these tests do push a narrowing of the curriculum to the exclusion of many things, that someone like me might value, just as you point out. These tests are really only about the attainment of funding (as you pointed out), securing town reputations in various ranking reports, scapegoating students and teachers and making money for testing companies. Moreover, if the most important function of a school, for you, is to get your child into a "top college" to get a "great job" (whatever that is to you), these tests will not help you much. A broad selection of coursework and activities, good grades, recommendation letters, an excellent essay, SAT or ACT scores, etc. are a surer bet.
Matt Allen May 23, 2013 at 11:15 PM
Some of NYC's 'selective admission' schools where a standardized test is used to select students are among the best in the country. There - corrected it for you.
Matt Allen May 23, 2013 at 11:42 PM
"Oh and my kids were very stressed about the tests." Guess what - the 2 minute pitch that you have to make to a new client is also very stressful. And the pitch may or may not reflect the value of you product, your ideas or your personal dedication. Ideally, we would go through hundreds out rounds of assessment before deciding anything. However, that is not possible in the real world. Hence we use proxies. By definition, proxies are not perfect. That does not make them wrong. In an imaginary world, we would interview hundreds of candidates and monitor their job performance for a year before giving them a job. In the real world, interviews lasting a few minuted to a few hours are used as a proxy for long term job performance. That is the nature of human life - get on with it and stop whining. Life is not all sugar and candy - it is full of stress and challenges. Stop coddling your kids and let them know that there is a hungry world out there and they need to fight for their place in that world. Or maybe you are in the camp that always believes that something is always 'owed' to you and successful people are the ones who should be penalized.
Matt Allen May 23, 2013 at 11:47 PM
" Test scores are not necessarily an indication of intelligence or proof of comprehensive learning, rather it is indicative of good test preparation." When I see a candidate with a high GPA, I assume that to be a sign of intelligence and/or hard-work, devotion and motivation. When I see a candidate with low GPA, I do not know what to assume. The person is either dumb or has no motivation. Or may be cracks under pressure. Of course, I could spend a ridiculous amount of time trying to find out the one gem of the 100 failures in that low GPA pool but who has that kind of time? Standardized tests are a filter. Clearing the filter shrinks the available pool that recruiters can then evaluate. However, there is no excuse for failing the screen. The ASK tests administered are ridiculously simple and not at all challenging for any half decent student. Kids in other countries are tackling much more advanced material at a comparable level. Those shying away from these tests are simply scared of failure. Not a mindset that can lead to anything good in life.
East Sider mom May 24, 2013 at 01:45 AM
Matt- I am not of the belief that anything is owed to me-which is why I have worked hard all my life while raising two children and putting up with the attitudes of people like you. I live in the real world. I have worked since I obtained my working papers at age 14--in NYC. Very presumptuous statements you make Mr. Allen. Guess what? I'm not even a SAHM. Figure that one out. I don't coddle my children-what do you know about me? I posted a statement regarding standardized tests that I believe are not necessarily an indication that a subject was taught in a certain way so that makes me a coddler? Who's whining? When someone agrees with something that you don't you call them a whiner? I happen to also be fortunate that my children do very well on these tests...but how do the results indicate that the subject matter they learned was appropriate? Or was it that the TESTING material was taught well?? HENCE my point.
Matt Allen May 24, 2013 at 02:04 PM
"I don't coddle my children...".."Oh and my kids were very stressed about the tests." Why would someone use the fact that children were 'stressed' for a test to denounce the test? Of course they are supposed to be stressed, just like they would be before a major concert recital, play or sporting event. Or later in life before an important client meeting or product launch. McTavish says ", I can’t imagine a standardized test that will capture authentic learning" and you say you are "in complete agreement." But the statement itself is completely redundant because there is NOTHING that can ever capture 'authentic learning,' whatever that means. These are typically excuses used by people who do not perform well in tests or are afraid of failure. As I mentioned, if someone does well in the test then they are either intelligent and get the concepts or are hard working. If they perform poorly, then they are either dumb and don't get the concepts or are intelligent and lazy or chokers. Either way, failure highlights a negative trait that will affect them in real life. So at best a standardized test flags some false positives (people who do well solely on the basis of preparation) but there are no false negatives. Why would anyone denounce such a process?
East Sider mom May 24, 2013 at 03:34 PM
Hey Matt- My comment regarding stressing about the test was in response to Kevin Linn's question. So don't "quote" me as a reference to try and emphasize a point that does not pertain the issue at hand. Poor reading comprehension Matt?
Jean McTavish May 24, 2013 at 07:34 PM
The driving test is authentic assessment. The road test is performance based. How often do you choose a, b, c, or d in your career? The real problem is that our communities have lost control of the curriculum. High stakes accountability narrows the curriculum as well. Please keep reading and stay informed. I'm not concerned about my kids stressing as much as I am concerned that the Federal Government does not know what kind of teaching and learning leads to Ivy League readiness.
Jean McTavish May 24, 2013 at 07:35 PM
What you don't realize is that Chris Cerf is from NYC and Chris Christie is trying to replicate what is happening there. I agree. It is a huge mistake. Please stay reading and keep yourself informed.
Jean McTavish May 24, 2013 at 07:39 PM
I come from a very high performing district (Ridgewood). I grew up here and pay a lot in taxes to make sure my kids get the same kind of education I got. Ask our superintendent what these reforms are doing to our schools. I don't have a problem with standardized tests. We have all taken them many times. What you don't understand is that we are losing local control of our schools with high stakes accountability. Please keep reading and stay informed. Our country depends on it.
Jean McTavish May 24, 2013 at 07:40 PM
Our evaluation system has changed dramatically and you haven't learned about it yet. I am the mom in the article. Please attend a local board of ed meeting and ask questions. Pay attention. Stay informed.
Jean McTavish May 24, 2013 at 07:47 PM
I stress my kids out far more than the NJASK. Test prep for inferior tests will destroy our children's potential. Teachers already are and will continue to teach to the tests. This is wrong. This argument is about local control and high expectations. The author of the article picked stress out, but that is the least of the problem. The story is really about market driven public education reform. There are huge profits being made and my children's education is suffering. Please keep reading and talking. You will understand.
susan May 25, 2013 at 02:50 AM
Unfortunatley, education is moving in a very dangerous direction. We are losing local control to an agenda driven by corporations and the very wealthy to privatize our schools. This movement toward national standards (common core) lays the foundation to grow national curriculum, national test, & national data collection of our childrens most private information. This is not about improving schools, but rather about profits for some. Jean is a hero and is leading the charge to raise awareness about this travesty affecting not only public education and children but also democracy and the destruction of the fundamental way we function as a soicety. Anyone that lashes out against her courage is strickly ignorant to the larger agenda or on the payroll for this agenda. Any enlightened parent or citizen, truly in the know about what is at play and that has a soul would be outraged and singing this woman's praises for her courage, vision and willingness to stand up for your children despite your harsh words. One day you will be thanking her - mark my words. Until then, she has enough integrity to carry on until you wake up. But, please wake up soon because we need you. Thanks.
Joanne Tolles May 26, 2013 at 01:38 AM
This is a great news article because it is sparking discussion on the topic of "ed reform." People on both sides of this issue need to be knowledgeable about what is happening in our nation's schools. As the mom in this article points out, local control has been covertly stolen from our teachers, administrators, boards of education, and parents. Parents no longer are the final authority over their child's education unless they actually fight against the system itself, as is the mom in this article. It is time for every parent, teacher, and administrator to regain control over the classroom and make sure that each and every child is offered a fair, just, and humane education. It is time for us to shout out loud that we do care deeply about what our children feel and what our children think.
Fan of Ridgewood June 07, 2013 at 02:58 AM
Ridgewood Mom's credentials and name should be revealed before giving her a platform. Given the nature of her posts, im certain she works for the teachers union. Ridgewood Mom, please reveal your position to the Teachers' Union.
Ridgewood Mom June 07, 2013 at 10:21 AM
Bill! So good to see you here.
Fan of Ridgewood June 07, 2013 at 03:40 PM
Ridgewood Mom, you give many lectures on how school should be operated, particularly on how teachers deserve more. Can't you answer the simple question Ive asked several times are you affiliated with the Teacher's union? Perhaps your name as well? Btw, standardized testing is an accurate indicator of a students academic success, according to the Dept. of Ed. - here is one of many articles - http://www.unc.edu/~nielsen/soci708/cdocs/Kuncel_Hezlett_2007_1080.pdf According to a study in the Oct. 28, 2005, issue of the peer-reviewed Education Policy Analysis Archives, Standardized tests are not narrowing the curriculum, rather they are focusing it on important basic skills all students need to master. SAT test results mirror the graduation rates of the test takers Testing permits for evaluations that arent tainted by individual school standard
Ridgewood Mom June 07, 2013 at 04:26 PM
Bill, As far as I am aware, I have answered that question every time that you have asked it. Here it is again... I am not, in any way, affiliated with any teachers union. I am a concerned parent and, obviously, I am not the only mother who feels the way I do. I am curious about your wording. How is "narrowing" of curriculum different from "focusing" curriculum?
Ridgewood Mom June 07, 2013 at 04:29 PM
Also, please read what I read above about SAT tests. You are conflating topics in a way that misrepresents my position.
Gimmee more free sheet June 07, 2013 at 04:47 PM
Why do teachers deserve more? Does paying higher pensions and healthcare costs make kids smarter? Got any facts on that?
Fan of Ridgewood June 07, 2013 at 05:07 PM
I guess we have to take your word on you not being with the teacher's union. But your constant promotion of teachers first, leaves me and others suspicious. Too bad you hide behind a screenname, it would provide more credibility. SAT tests are only one example. Im not sure what your point is regarding focus and narrowing. But standardized tests prioritize essential learning (reading, writing, arithmetic). There are objective views on what subjects are more important to "get a good job". Standardized tests also reduces social promotion, so Johnny can read the diploma he gets.
Fan of Ridgewood June 07, 2013 at 05:12 PM
Matt, very well put. Teaching to the test teaches the subjects that have been deemed most important in academic and real world applications. They have also been reliable indicators of how those testtakers will perform in school. If you have an issue with studying for and taking tests - you will have an issue with success anywhere in the world.
Gimmee more free sheet June 07, 2013 at 05:12 PM
I thought Patch has a policy of requiring all bloggers and letters to the editor be named? So I can set up my blog too of GIMME MORE FREE SHEET?
Ridgewood Mom June 07, 2013 at 06:08 PM
They don't encourage soccer?! Bill, has there ever been a single child that has ever graduated from Ridgewood High School, in the whole of its history, that has not been able to read their diploma? Seriously. I get that schools with chronically low scores reveal themselves, through these tests, to be in dire need. But didn't we know that about those schools already before these tests came along? There is no utility, in a place like Ridgewood, for this sort of rubric. We are talking about tests that push a language curriculum that amounts to speed and accuracy in elementary language performance? What really is the relevance of a 97% score vs. a 93% score? There is no Shakespeare. There is no Hemingway. There is no higher language application going. RHS has always offered better then this and it is being dragged down by something much less. Did I make a typo back there somewhere? I hope I don't lose a percentage point for it.
Ridgewood Mom June 07, 2013 at 06:09 PM
I am not the author of this blog/letter. She is another Ridgewood mother.
Gimmee more free sheet June 07, 2013 at 06:22 PM
RW Mom if standardized tests are not valuable, then would you agree that not all teachers or subjects are equal as well. For example, we should not pay everyone the same. We should pay math and science teachers more than PE and Spanish. I am curious as to what metric we should use to determine why we should pay anyone more though especially when so many low and middle class taxpayers and seniors struggle to pay their property tax bills now. Would you agree that investing in education and the classroom is not the same as spending more money on health benefits or pensions or can you articulate how paying higher taxes for someone else's health benefits benefits students. Thanks
Fan of Ridgewood June 07, 2013 at 08:06 PM
RM - actually, without the tests, it was very difficult to identify failing students who have been just pushed along until it was too late. Politics within the educational system made it much easier to hide dysfunctional students, teachers and schools, but testing brings them to light. No, i agree that Ridgewood doesnt graduate illiterates. But it happens within NJ. Tests keep people on their toes and focused. Reading Hemingway is nice but knowing basic grammer and math is more important. As my executive says, "Major on the majors."
Ridgewood Mom June 07, 2013 at 09:17 PM
I guess I see a couple of questions there and I'm not sure where to start. Its probably best not hijack the discussion by straying from the topic of standardized tests to the topic of teacher compensation. I could certainly agree that not all teachers are equal, but I'd also rather not digress into a discussion of how we might meaningfully measure that here. Except that I will make the point, because it is somewhat related, that I don't think that standardized tests do anything meaningful to help with that. Regarding subjects, I'd say that while I don't necessarily value all school subjects equally, I definitely do not agree with the particular "focus" pushed by these tests. No. I don't think that math and science are particularly vital for every single student to master in some sort of unique way such that PE or Spanish need be excluded to make way for that focus. If someone wants to pursue a career as an athlete or Spanish translator then I would expect those subjects should be more important to them. I also don't expect you or anyone else to share my particular educational values, and can live with our value differences. But, then again, I am not the one who is trying to impose my values dogmatically upon every single child and family that goes through the school system. I'm not pushing for a narrowing of the curriculum and a dismantling of local control.


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