A file photo of a teacher in a classroom. (June...

A file photo of a teacher in a classroom. (June 16, 2006) Credit: Getty Images

ALBANY -- The state's largest teachers union criticized New York's standardized testing system at a hearing Monday as taking too much time away from regular class work.

"When teachers are forced to 'teach to the test' and eliminate meaningful lessons, students lose out on a rich and full education," said Andrew Pallotta, executive vice president of the New York State United Teachers union, in prepared testimony before the Senate education committee. Reliance on testing for school promotion and graduation has intensified stress on students, parents and teachers and turned "many schools into test prep factories and narrowing the curriculum."

New York State School Boards Association executive director Timothy Kremer said in a statement that the "reasonable testing" of students was an important tool to evaluate student and teacher performance.

"That said, school boards have concerns that too much testing is eating into instructional time, to the detriment of our students," Kremer said. He said it was also important that the test results be meaningful and "actually signify that students are ready for higher education or the workforce."

The state's education commissioner, John King Jr., testified that the skills and knowledge being tested can be learned through other educational strategies rather than teaching to the tests.

"One of our challenges as an education community is to help teachers and principals understand that test prep as a strategy is likely to be significantly less effective at driving improved student performance than really rich instruction," King said.

The state began testing reading and math skills in 1966 for students in grades 3, 6 and 9. More tests for more grades and other areas such as science and the Regents exam to earn a high school diploma were added over the years.

The testing system costs the state $34.5 million annually, a figure that does not include local costs, according to the State Education Department. A five-year, $32 million contract with the publishing company Pearson to create standardized tests has come under fire after parents and teachers criticized a question that pitted a pineapple and a rabbit against each other in a hypothetical race.

King said that Pearson was now reviewing and revising certain passages in its tests that would be subject to education department approval.

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