Education

Group that seeks less test-driven instruction plans to address Fayette school board

Fayette County schools are overemphasizing standardized student testing and should adopt a more "balanced approach."

Those are the beliefs of a grass-roots organization calling itself Fayette Advocates for Balance in the Classroom, or FayetteABC. Members expressed their concerns last month at forums that were part of the search for a new Fayette school superintendent and plan to submit a petition expressing their opinion to the Fayette County Board of Education at the board's meeting at 6 p.m. Monday.

Erik Myrup, a professor of history at the University of Kentucky and a co-founder of FayetteABC, insists the group "is not anti-testing." But he says members strongly oppose "test-driven instruction," contending that pressure to boost test scores results in "teaching to the test" in some Lexington schools.

Almost 350 people had signed the FayetteABC online petition as of Friday, although it appears a significant number of signers come from the same households because they have the same last names and ZIP codes. FayetteABC says the signatures represent 14 or more Fayette schools.

"We had teachers who signed and then wrote and said please take us off, we're afraid," Myrup said, adding he thinks teachers fear retribution.

"There is fear out there," he said.

Standardized tests have become a cornerstone of today's public school system. Educators — and the public — increasingly use test results as measures of student progress and indicators of school and teacher quality. But FayetteABC thinks tests results are "incomplete measures of student achievement and school quality" and should be supplemented by other data.

"We're trying to find common ground, not take a shrill approach," Myrup said last week. "But we believe pressure put on teachers is passed down to the kids. Children are being taught that the whole purpose of education is to prepare for a standardized test.

"School should be about inspiration and excitement and opening minds. Instead, it becomes drudgery."

Outgoing Fayette schools Superintendent Stu Silberman says he agrees with some concerns expressed by FayetteABC.

"We don't want our schools focusing on how to take tests," he said. "I think a little bit of time will always be spent telling kids what's expected, but we don't want that to be overdone."

However, Silberman insisted that raising test scores has improved education for students across the district.

"They talk about test-driven instruction," he said of FayetteABC. "But we see it as content-driven instruction, which I think is a good thing. Core content guarantees kids are going to be taught the content that's available, not just what a particular teacher might like."

Said Myrup: "We think everybody involved wants what's best for kids. We don't claim to have all the answers. But we'd like to see a discussion between administrators and teachers and the larger community as a whole."

To learn more about FayetteABC, go to Fayetteabc.web.officelive.com.

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