The editorial board of the Albany Times-Union editorial board is one of the wisest in the nation. It understands, as few other editorial boards do, that the annual standardized tests are a waste of instructional time that do nothing to help students. Their only error in this editorial is to assume that the tests measure school performance. They don’t. They measure school demographics, which can be obtained without the testing.

The editorial board objects to the state and districts’ efforts to bribe or threaten students to take these useless tests.


Which word or words best describe some schools’ approach to last week’s state English tests for grades three through eight?

(a) misguided

(b) disappointing

(c) both of the above

Take out your No. 2 pencil and bubble in (c). New York has been working hard to make testing better. But last week’s reports of how schools are incentivizing test participation show we have a long way to go.

Some schools.. have dangled a deal in front of their students: Take the statewide English and math tests and you’ll get out of taking your core subject finals in June. Other schools have promised pizza parties if enough students take the tests or have held pep rallies to encourage them. 

Still others have taken a sterner approach, pressuring parents or doing away with “refusal rooms” for students whose parents opted them out…

All of these approaches are troubling.

Let’s recall what the tests are for. They aren’t a measure of children’s progress. They’re a measure of schools’ performance. They’re not designed to help the kids who take them, at least not directly. The results don’t even arrive till the next school year…

Instead, these assessments — mandated, along with a minimum 95 percent participation rate, under federal law — have warped the curriculum, chipping away at social studies, science, art, even recess, in the push to provide more English and math instruction. Emphasizing standardized tests over regular classroom work — yes, including final exams — is a distraction from real education.

Pep rallies for an exam? Why not a pep rally to encourage, say, participation in the science fair? And bribes and cajolery are not the tools of a system that’s working correctly. They’re signs that we’ve lost sight of what’s really important. Hint: It’s not increasing a school’s test participation rates.

And perseverance and resilience? Better for children to learn to persevere through a long-term project like a science experiment or a poetry portfolio; better to learn resilience through a chance to revise a tough math worksheet or the challenge of presenting in front of the class. Perseverance certainly isn’t taught by tests plagued by the kinds of computer glitches we saw last week, which only raise kids’ frustration and parents’ ire…

Save the pep rallies for things that really count.