April 6, 2005 – The V.I. Board of Education has ordered an end to the use of a controversial test for St. Croix public high school students. A majority of board members voted to direct to the Department of Education to cease giving the test.
The test, which has been given to St. Croix students for the past three years, was criticized as unfair to both students and teachers. At the same time many board members lamented the failure of the test to meet the stated goals of the Education Department. Officials said they wanted to develop a territory-wide test as a way to assess student achievement. A public hearing on the tests was held March 13. (See "District Tests Elicit Testy Debate").
Some called it a failure that was brought on by the resistance of some educators to support the experiment. But former teacher, now Board of Education Chairwoman Judy M. Gomez said because the test results were factored into student's grade point averages, it contradicted board rules about how student grades should be determined.
"I'm not saying students should not be conscientious, in fact they should be conscientious, but we should not penalize them, especially with an academic grade if they were not taught the information," Gomez said.
"I ask the members of the board to recognize you in your wisdom came up with your guidelines, your policies, and you said academic grades must reflect the teacher's … most objective assessment of a student's academic performance," she said.
Testifiers who spoke at the hearing pointed out that most of the students who took the district test failed.
Tregenza Roach, Board of Education executive director, read for members portions of the transcript of that hearing. That transcript contained accounts by students, teachers and teachers' union officials.
Roach recalled the testimony of one teacher said he reviewed some of the tests and found mislabeled diagrams, questions with no answers, and that his top student and his worst student received the same test score.
"He was not against the assessment but material that was on the test was not even covered in their text … and he was not allowed to see the test beforehand. He had no input in the test and further, as an example of the test covering material that wasn't covered in class he said the Chemistry test had Physics questions that were not covered in the Chemistry class," Roach said.
He also recounted testimony given by a student who said she did not recognize many of the test questions as having been taught in class and when that student questioned her teachers, she was told the teachers did not know what would appear on the test. But the student said she received a low grade, which also lowered her grade point average.
Board member Debra Watlington said, as a parent, she appreciated the desire by the Education Department to raise standards and she did not agree with the idea of doing away with the test for the sake of preserving GPAs. Nonetheless, she said, some students were being hurt by a faulty test and circumstances beyond their control and something had to be done.
Other board members, like Nereida Rivera-O'Reilly defended the district-wide test, calling it a spur for better academic performance and greater accountability for what is being taught and learned.
"How do you say we don't want to penalize the students because it's not fair — of course it isn't — but at the same time maintain or elevate the standard?" she said.
The motion that was approved by the board called on the Education Department to stop using the test but to make further attempts to create a system-wide high school assessment tool.
An effective tool, they said, will point out strengths and weaknesses in teaching and testing methods without making students pay for deficiencies in the system that's supposed to educate them.
Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.