Superintendent decries mandated tests

BAR HARBOR — When it comes to standardized student testing, Superintendent Howard Colter of the Mount Desert Island Regional School System (MDIRSS) wonders if it’s time for school boards and communities to say, “Enough, already!”

“I feel that nationally – and I would say it’s true in Maine – there is a growing feeling that we should be testing more and more,” he said in a recent interview with the Islander. “I’m a skeptic of all that. I’m not sure what’s to be gained, what we’re trying to accomplish.

“It’s allegedly being used to motivate and stimulate schools. But if that’s our goal, I’ve got better ideas than using standardized scores to accomplish that.”

He cited a PDK/Gallup Poll, released Aug. 21, that found that only 22 percent of people surveyed nationwide thought that more testing improves school performance and 58 percent thought it was a bad idea to use student test scores to evaluate teachers.

Colter also pointed out that every hour spent testing and preparing for tests is an hour that could be devoted to teaching and learning.

“I hear more and more parents in the community talking about the whole idea of opting their kids out of exams and questioning if public schools are overly focused on testing,” he told the school system board Monday night.

“It’s time for us to really look at this. I think we need to be clear about why we are testing, what the purpose is in terms of student learning and how much is enough.”

The Maine Department of Education (DOE) last year adopted the Smarter Balanced standardized test for students in schools statewide. But after numerous problems with the test arose, the Legislature voted last spring to scrap it. The DOE is in the process of finding another standardized test for Maine students to take.

“There’s standardized testing that is required by the state and federal governments and then the testing we do ourselves because we think it’s potentially more useful for really knowing our students and improving instruction,” Colter said. “How much of that is a good idea, and what are we trading off to do that testing? Are we trading off art or music or gym class?”

Colter said he wants to discuss standardized testing with the school board’s policy committee, as well as with teachers, administrators and parents.

“I’m willing to forego the state exams, but there is money attached to that, a lot of money,” he told the Islander.

According to figures compiled last spring, the school system could lose as much as $669,000 a year in federal funds if it decided not to participate in state-mandated standardized testing. MDI High School would stand to lose the most, about $181,000. Conners-Emerson School in Bar Harbor could lose $149,000. The elementary schools in Mount Desert, Southwest Harbor, Tremont and Trenton could lose between $66,000 and $81,000 each.

“Would the school boards be willing to forego that?” Colter wondered aloud. “The communities have to understand that this is not some little decision; this is a big deal.”

Colter said that if all the standardized testing that schools are required to do is really beneficial, “that’s wonderful.”

“But if it’s not … then I guess I’m willing to say we will dedicate [only] so many hours or so many days per year to testing, and that’s our limit.”

Dick Broom

Dick Broom

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Dick Broom covers the towns of Mount Desert and Southwest Harbor, Mount Desert Island High School and the school system board and superintendent's office. He enjoys hiking with his golden retriever and finding new places for her to swim. [email protected]
Dick Broom

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