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Potsdam parent, who teaches in Massena, speaks out against testing

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POTSDAM — Thomas French has been a teacher for 24 years and, he said, he’s seen the profession change, but not for the better.

Mr. French, who teaches English at J.W. Leary Junior High School in Massena, is also the parent of two middle school students, a fifth-grader and an eighth-grader in the Potsdam Central School District.

He recently sent letters to district officials in an attempt to exempt his two children from taking the state English language assessment and mathematics tests.

“In the next two weeks, our 8- to 14-year-old children will be subjected to nine hours of high-stakes testing. It will literally bring some to tears,” he wrote in a letter to Superintendent Patrick H. Brady, Middle School Principal James M. Cruikshank, state Sen. Joseph A. Griffo, R-Rome, Assemblywoman Addie J. Russell, D-Theresa, and members of the Potsdam school board.

Despite claims from the commissioner of education, paid consultants and the state Education Department that the tests are “authentic and grade level,” Mr. French said, they are neither.

In response to his letter to district officials, Mr. Cruikshank replied that should Mr. French’s children be in school on the day of the exams or the makeup days, they would be tested.

“The state had made it clear to us that we have to make every reasonable attempt to have all of our students” tested, Mr. Cruikshank wrote.

In his reply, Mr. Brady said that last year the school district passed a resolution voicing concerns over the increase in standardized testing.

“While we share some of your concerns, we do have an obligation to implement the new standards and assessments,” Mr. Brady wrote. “As a teacher who will be providing these assessments to your students, I am sure you can understand these requirements.”

Mr. Brady said last year the district did receive some questions in regard to opting out of exams, but this year in his district, as in many others across the state, those concerns and number of requests have increased, prompting him to send an email to parents explaining why students should take the tests.

“There is an option where students can refuse to take the exam, but while we understand parents’ frustrations, this is not an option we recommend,” he said.

Mr. Brady said that Steve Katz, director of the Office of State Assessments, had advised that students may not opt out of the test and that students not tested will be a strike against the district on its annual report card.

When asked after school Tuesday whether his children took the tests, Mr. French said he didn’t want his children to be targeted or singled out, noting they were sent to school to take the exams.“We told our kids to do their best,” he said. “We didn’t want to put them in the middle of this.”

The English language arts exams were being offered this week. The math exam will be given next week.

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