Education chief acknowledged 'more testing than is needed'

New York State Education Commissioner John B. King New York State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. listens as presentations are made during the Board of Regents meeting at the State Education Building in Albany. (Oct. 21, 2013) Photo Credit: Skip Dickstein

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State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr., who has faced anger from parents and educators over state exams and curriculum changes, acknowledged publicly that students may be undergoing too much testing.

King, in a letter sent to school superintendents statewide, said state education officials "recognize that a variety of pressures at the state and local level may have resulted in more testing than is needed and in rote test preparation that crowds out quality instruction."

While he asserted that the frequency and number of tests has remained relatively constant over the past decade, King also wrote, "The amount of testing should be the minimum necessary to inform effective decision-making."

The letter, dated Thursday, came just days after the state Board of Regents declared it will seek ways to relieve pressures on students and will reach out to parents and teachers who have mobilized against state tests. In testy exchanges during its Monday meeting, the board argued over whether King and his deputies have been responsive to public concerns.

It also followed an embarrassing setback for the commissioner, who canceled appearances at four town-hall forums sponsored by the state PTA -- one scheduled for Garden City -- after the first two meetings, held upstate, became boisterous and confrontational.

On Monday, King announced he will hold a dozen two-hour forums across the state. On Long Island, three meetings are scheduled -- Nov. 6 in Suffolk County, and Nov. 13 and Dec. 9 in Nassau County, according to a list posted on the Education Department's website. The list is not yet complete, and details on locations and times of those meetings are not given.

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Roberta Gerold, president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association, said Friday that King's letter is a "hopeful" sign.

"Maybe he is stopping to listen to what educators and parents are saying about the amount of testing and the types of testing in which students are involved," said Gerold, superintendent of the Middle County school district.

She was pleased about one initiative King mentioned -- approved Monday by the Regents -- that could mean eighth-graders who take accelerated, ninth-grade algebra no longer will be required to take both the state eighth-grade math test and the Regents test. The state must get a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education to allow those students to take only the Regents test.

Gerold said the majority of Middle Country's nearly 800 eighth-graders take both tests at year's end.

Friday, King told the state School Boards Association that the federal department seems receptive to granting the waiver request, said Robert Lowry, spokesman for the New York State Council of School Superintendents, who was in the audience.

Carl Korn, spokesman for New York State United Teachers, called the Regents' action in seeking the federal waiver "a small step."

"The Regents appear to be recognizing that course corrections are necessary," he said. "Our focus remains on the need for a three-year moratorium on high-stakes consequences for students and teachers stemming from state testing. That's the best way to ensure that New York State can get it right for students and teachers."

At the first of his new forums, held Thursday in Albany, King told parents and teachers that the state will not delay implementation of new, more rigorous Common Core academic standards, but said he is open to making changes going forward.

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With John Hildebrand

and AP

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