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home : bishop : columns

10/8/2015 9:02:00 AM
BISHOP'S COLUMN
Catholic schools form tomorrow's leaders
BY BISHOP EDWARD B. SCHARFENBERGER


Long before the advent of the Common Core academic standards, Catholic schools have identified the source of their phenomenal success in consistently delivering academic excellence. Catholic education, by its very nature, is focused on the whole child, the whole person: body, mind and spirit. That is the key.

Persons exist always in relationship and exist to really grow and flourish, not just as isolated individuals to be assessed, classified, processed and passed on to the next grade.

This sense, unfortunately, is the experience of many parents, teachers and students who have been dealing with the New York State Assessments attempting to implement Common Core standards. The tension has been mounting -- and not just in Catholic schools.

It has always been the hallmark of Catholic education to engage students, teachers, parents and principals in ongoing "dialogue" or conversation. We think of Catholic schools as family and, for that reason, listen and take seriously the experience of every member of that community -- especially parents, who are the primary educators of their children.

We have been hearing that a trend has been developing in which, to paraphrase the Scriptures, the child is being formed for the test, not the test for the child.

"Teaching to the test" has become the buzz, and it has been putting tremendous pressure on teachers and students -- so much so that it threatens to compromise the harmony of the relationships among all the members of the school family.

The Diocese of Albany has listened to its school families -- parents, teachers and principals -- and has taken the initiative to reevaluate the testing process, in consultation with the Diocesan School Board.

At a press conference on Oct. 2, diocesan superintendent of schools Michael Pizzingrillo announced our plan to insure that our children and their families will receive the kind of achievement-based assessment they really need -- the kind that teachers can also use to help their students grow and learn from their progress.

None of our students will, on my watch, become just another statistic or a marker in the designs or databases of a technocratic hierarchy. Catholic education will always support excellence in the use of technology and state-of-the-art learning techniques, but we will not sacrifice the creative, imaginative, human and social skills essential for the child to grow into position whereby he or she can emerge as a true leader in tomorrow's world -- not just a robotic functionary.

Parents naturally want their children to be able to think and communicate and to form solid social relationships so they can participate actively in the community, taking their place as leaders in the social, economic and political life of our society or in whatever calling they choose.

The benchmark of this formational process is not solely based on the measurement of exam scores and the evaluations of teacher performance said to be derived from them. Catholic schools in our Diocese have never used the New York State Assessments for the purpose of teacher evaluation -- in part because of their timing, which comes too late for them to be of much benefit to the students as well.

Besides, we have our own well-established and effective means for making such assessments. At the same time, we realize our parents and teachers want to be able to keep track of a student's entire formation process, including but not limited to what such assessments might reveal.

Accordingly, we will continue to use the New York State testing program as tools for programmatic assessment, but not every year. Administering them in the third, fifth and seventh grades will serve as a benchmark to measure longitudinal student progress over a set number of years. Our new protocol will be a step forward for the achievement-based assessment we have chosen for ourselves.

As Mr. Pizzingrillo stated, our students will be evaluated against their peers "based on what they've actually learned, rather than being judged against a set of state-mandated standards."

The testing we will employ uses the nationally-regarded Iowa Assessment, to be administered in November to grades three through eight. This will provide the kind of information to help teachers and parents actually make use of the results for the current academic year. Students in grades four and six will take the Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAt) to inform parents and teachers of each individual student's ability.

Further adjustments may take place in the future to insure that our students continue to graduate from our schools with the knowledge and skills to be the leaders of tomorrow that each of them is called to be.

To all parents who choose to send their child to a Catholic school in our Diocese, I say, "Count on us to provide not only the highest standard of academic excellence, but an education grounded firmly in our Catholic faith, the character that it forms and the values of community service and good citizenship that it promotes."

To leaders in our business and political communities, I say, "Support Catholic education by any means at your disposal, if you value the emergence of the leaders of tomorrow who will continue to build up our society and its vital institutions."

Support for our children's future is an investment in our common good and the structural stability of our moral and democratic fabric, and is the best line of defense against poverty and social dependency.

The hallmarks of Catholic education and its focus on the whole child have always been anchored in the values of faith, freedom, family and community. We look forward to continued collaboration with all of those in our community who seek to improve the quality of education -- and with good reason.

As a wise person once observed, "As the child goes, so goes the nation."

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)





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