Several readers, including parents in this district, have sent me a copy of this letter written by Don Sternberg of Wantagh Elementary School in Long Island, New York.

Sternberg wrote a letter to the school’s parents at the start of the school year telling them about how the politicians and bureaucrats at Albany were messing up their child’s education.

He wrote:

What we will be teaching students is to be effective test takers; a skill that does not necessarily translate into critical thinking – a skill set that is necessary at the college level and beyond. This will inevitably conflict with authentic educational practice – true teaching.
Unfortunately, if educators want to survive in the new, Albany-created bureaucratic mess that is standardized assessments to measure teacher performance, paramount to anything else, we must focus on getting kids ready for the state assessments. This is what happens when non-educators like our governor and state legislators, textbook publishing companies (who create the assessments for our state and reap millions of our tax dollars by doing so), our NYS Board of Regents, and a state teachers’ union president get involved in creating what they perceive as desirable educational outcomes and decide how to achieve and measure them. Where were the opinions of teachers, principals, and superintendents? None were asked to participate in the establishment of our new state assessment parameters. Today, statisticians are making educational decisions in New York State that will impact your children for years to come.

Standardized assessment has grown exponentially. For example, last year New York State fourth graders, who are nine or ten years old, were subjected to roughly 675 minutes (over 11 hours) of state assessments which does not include state field testing. This year there will be a state mandated pre-test in September and a second mandated pre-test in January for all kindergarten through fifth grade students in school. In April, kindergarten through fifth grade students will take the last test [assessment] for the year.

Excessive testing is unhealthy. When I went to school I was never over-tested and subsequently labeled with an insidious number that ranked or placed me at a Level 1, Level 2, Level 3 or Level 4 as we do today. Do you want your child to know their assigned ‘Level’? What would the impact be on their self-esteem and self-worth at such a young age?

Inevitably, he said, teachers would look at students as more or less desirable because what the students do will affect the teachers’ evaluation scores.

He urged parents to do their part, but he laid the blame for this massive distortion of educational purpose where it belongs: on the State Commissioner of Education, the Governor, and the Legislature.

The new system is a mess. It is an outrage. It is a crime against education and against children. Parents need to know what the state (and federal government) is doing to their children. They need to know how good schools and good teachers are being demoralized.

Donald Sternberg is a hero of public education. He joins our honor roll.

If every principal explained to the parents what the state is doing to their children and the harm being inflicted on them, we would turn this nation’s failed corporate education policies around and let our educators educate.