As we get through the second month of the fall semester, it is clear that the devastating effects of COVID-19 linger in school buildings in New York State and the communities they strive to serve.
Things are different from any other school year, of course. And the challenge is to determine how and where to look to adjust the patterns and practices of teaching and learning to meet the mission of our schools. As we make every attempt to go back to the normal function of school in safe and healthy ways, we must grapple with the compelling need to restore the social and emotional well-being of students and the staff who support their intellectual growth.
The New York State Board of Regents should know that several areas need attention if it is to help school communities overcome the coronavirus pandemic. There is one area that should be placed on hold for this school year: the teacher-accountability system known by its APPR initials and the repeated use of standardized testing. Because of the current patchwork of learning systems — in-person, remote and hybrid — the concept of measuring student learning and teacher effectiveness is a weak proposition at best.
Therefore, the Board of Regents should consider a one-year moratorium on testing and the accompanying accountability system focused on teachers. The moratorium would help education officials, who would be able to responsibly design an effective accountability system for students, teachers and schools. FairTest: The National Center for Fair & Open Testing offers a compelling call for assessment and accountability for K-12 students. In fact, state lawmakers are taking another look at testing in Massachusetts, and educational officials with the Nashville school board, among other jurisdictions, are considering a moratorium on such systems during the deadly coronavirus outbreak.
We could take advantage of the moratorium to reimagine school: Let’s seize the moment to refocus, reprioritize, and reinvigorate the covenant of America’s communities and their public schools. Harnessing the power of technology, while maintaining a deep love of history, science, literature and the arts, and fostering habits that promote health and wellness, are foundational for producing wise and capable students. Holding on to the antiquated metrics of high-stakes testing has not, and will not, accomplish the goals of society set forth by anyone interested in the future of our state and nation.
In my career in education, I have seen many efforts to solve a range of educational challenges that confront our schools and communities. None, however, compares with the challenges that appear before us at this time. Let’s meet the needs of our students, teachers and families in ways that would honor the legacy of our nation’s public education espoused by Horace Mann, America’s first great advocate of public education, who said: "Public education is the cornerstone of our community and our democracy."
David A. Gamberg is a retired schools superintendent. He was in the Southold school district for 12 years, and served as a shared superintendent in the Southold and Greenport districts for six years.