Urban Academy's Stand on High Stakes Testing

In 1998, Urban Academy became a founding member of the New York Performance Standards Consortium, a coalition of 28 successful small high schools (the Consortium has since added 20 more schools). These schools are committed to academic excellence and high performance standards. We have all chosen to take a stand against the imposition of the New York State Regents Examinations and other high-stakes tests.

In 2001, the Regents granted Consortium schools a waiver from 4 of the 5 required exams -- we give only the English Language Arts exam -- based upon our demonstration that our performance based assessment graduation requirements meet and exceed the state standard.

Here are some Frequently Asked Questions about high-stakes testing and performance-based assessment:

What is a high-stakes test?

  • High stakes tests are tests that are used as the SOLE determinant of critically important educational decisions, such as grade promotion or graduation, in the life of a child.

Why does Urban Academy, along with the other Consortium schools, say "NO" to high-stakes tests?

  • Because learning is complex; assessment should be too.
  • Multiple forms of assessment have more reliability and consequential validity predicting future success than single instrument high-stakes tests.
  • A performance-based assessment system requires students to demonstrate what they know, not how well they take tests.
  • A performance-based assessment system tells schools, parents, colleges and employers how well students do in real-world situations.
  • Urban Academy's, and the Consortium's, performance-based assessment system is aligned to, meets and exceeds the State Learning Standards.

What do others say against high-stakes tests?

  • "It is improper-and potentially illegal - to use a test score as a single factor to determine retention, graduation or college admission."   U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, 1999
  • "Decisions that affect individual students' life chances or educational opportunities should not be made on the basis of test scores alone. Other relevant information should be taken into account to enhance the overall validity of such decisions."  American Educational Research Association, 2000
  • "We're embracing standardized tests just when the new economy is eliminating standardized jobs."  Robert B. Reich, former Secretary of Labor
  • "As states have rushed to adopt high stakes testing, there have been no significant gains in academic achievement... The dropout rate has increased for both blacks and whites, contrary to most reports... The basic theory justifying such tests - that students rationally react to increasingly demanding requirements by learning more in earlier grades - has little support. If the basic premise upon which high stakes testing is founded is false, and its costs are so severe, then why is it being so widely championed as a panacea?"  Gary Orfield, Professor of Education and Social Policy, Harvard University Graduate School of Education

Are Regents Exams High-Stakes Tests?

  • YES. Regents exams are high-stakes tests MANDATED by New York State. Students who fail only ONE of five Regents tests are denied a high school diploma, EVEN IF they have passed all their courses and attended school regularly.

Why don't independent schools give the Regents exams?

  • Because they do not believe in high-stakes tests! Here is what the New York State Association of Independent ("private") Schools has to say:

"...We know that short-term drill, though it may produce a better performance [on standardized subject area tests], does not produce a well-educated citizen. It is the recommendation of the New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS)... that independent schools should feel free to stand aside from the...New York State English and math tests as well as the other standardized subject area tests."

                         ---Fred Calder, Executive Director, New York State Association of Independent Schools.

"I took the Regents...Why shouldn't everyone?"

  • The Regents exams you took were NOT high-stakes tests. You did not have to pass them in order to graduate. Many students did not take Regents exams and instead graduated with a local diploma. Local diploma graduates could, and did, go on to college.
  • Schools can have standards without standardization.
  • Private Schools in New York State do not give Regents exams. Their graduates still attend New York State colleges and universities. If you live outside New York State, you do not take Regents exams. If you live in New Jersey, Connecticut, or Wisconsin, you do not take Regents exams. Yet, out-of-state graduates attend New York State colleges and universities.
  • Regents exams are not required for college scholarships. Consortium schools' students attend schools all over the country. Many receive scholarships.
  • US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, President Barack Obama, former-NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, NYS Governor Mario Cuomo all send or sent their children to private schools that do not give high stakes exams, despite their long-standing efforts to impose them on all public school students.

How can I support Performance Assessment?

  • Come visit our schools and see a performance-based assessment system in action.
  • Write to the State Commissioner of Education, MaryEllen Elia, and ask for her support of performance-based assessment and the New York Performance Standards Consortium.
  • Write to your state legislators and urge them to end the use of high-stakes tests.
  • To learn more, go to PerformanceAssessment.org