BUFFALO - Tests in third grade aren't anything like the tests lawyers take.
"The bar exam," said Amherst Middle School Principal Michael Cornell, "doesn't take as long as a 3rd-grade English exam."
Tests administered to prospective city police officers, according to Cornell, are also shorter than the standardized tests third graders take in New York. For this very reason, Cornell and more than one thousand other people packed Kleinhans Hall on Wednesday night for the Summit for Smarter Schools event, aimed to ignite a discussion about standardized test reform. Republican Senator George Maziarz, Democratic Senator Tim Kennedy and Democratic Assemblyman Sean Ryan addressed the crowd as featured speakers, as did several other renowned educators.
With parents, teachers, administrators and other educators in the crowd, the message was simple: standardized tests are too long, too strenuous, too pressurized and serve as erroneous indicators of real progress.
"There's too much emphasis on one test," Ryan said. "I'm a lawyer, and everyone said to me, 'you have to take the bar exam, that's so much pressure on one test.' Well, now, we're doing that to third graders."
This year, under newly-adopted Common Core curriculum standards, standardized test scores dropped dramatically among elementary and middle school students in the state. Under these tougher standards, it's no longer only impoverished urban school districts struggling to meet expectations. The suburbanites are affected, too, which prompted Ryan to crack a joke to the crowd.
"Welcome," he said, addressing the suburban school district members in attendance. "You're all non-performing now."
Ryan said Wednesday's event could help serve as a barometer for he and his colleagues and allow them to take their constituents' concerns back to Albany for the new legislative session.
And with more than 1,000 people in the crowd at Kleinhans Hall, it appears the politicians have a lot of support to reform testing procedures in New York.
"We want to make sure everything we do in our schools is focused on helping children learn," said Cornell, also a member of the Partnership for Smarter Schools. "And these standardized tests just don't."