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Getting Testy

From the advocacy groups that claim they contain cultural biases to the parents who worry about their overtested youngsters, standardized tests are a hot topic of discussion, even more so recently due to the Math A Regents test debacle. So many students statewide failed the exam, which as of this year is required for graduation, that it was tossed out. Educators sternly criticized the test for including material that was not covered in their classes.

There’s also new legislation requiring public alternative schools—many of which are in New York City—that previously were excluded from the exam frenzy to test their students. This an issue that has Jerry Mintz, director of the nonprofit networking group Alternative Education Resource Organization, extremely worried.

Mintz is the organizer of an event dedicated to the high-stakes testing issue, the International Democratic Education Conference, to be held in Troy next week. The conference is in its 11th year, and this is the first time that it’ll be held in North America—which is fitting, since Albany’s Free School, the oldest inner-city democratic school in the United States, is hosting the event (although the school had to rent out Russell Sage College to fit the more than 400 people, representing 25 countries, attending).

“It’s a huge issue,” Free School director Chris Mercogliano said while discussing high-stakes testing. “It’s killing what little innovation there was in the public school system—what little potential there was for doing things differently.”

One of the results of this testing is that the teachers must teach the test to keep their jobs: If the kids fail, the teachers walk. “In Texas they shut entire schools down if the school doesn’t pass the damn test,” Mercogliano said. “They fire the entire staff and start all over again the next year.”

And with George Bush currently in the White House, Mercogliano fears for New York state’s future. New York currently requires high-stakes testing only in high school. “If Bush has his way,” states Mercogliano, “there will be a national exam for every grade, starting at first grade.”

Susan Ohanian, an outspoken opponent of high-stakes testing and a keynote speaker at the conference, talks about the stress on our youth due to these tests in her latest book, What Happened to Recess and Why Are Our Children Struggling in Kindergarten? “High stakes testing has produced terror-stricken kindergartners afraid of failing,” she says in her book.

Other conference speakers include New York State Assembly Education Committee Chairman Steven Sanders (D-NYC), Assemblyman Ruben Diaz Jr. (D-Bronx), Monty Neill, the director of the Center for Fair and Open Testing, and Israeli educator Yaacov Hecht, founder of 23 democratic schools in Israel.

The eight-day event will take place at Russell Sage College in Troy through July 24 (it began July 16). The public is invited; go to the Web site, www.idec2003.com, for information.

—Kate Sipher

Dogs’ Day

Emerald Acres animal shelter is hosting an Adopt-a-Thon on Saturday (July 19) in hopes of finding homes for orphan canines in the area.

On July 19 from 10 AM to 3 PM, the Adopt-a-Thon will be held at Emerald Acres at 1197 Mariaville Road in Schenectady. The event is cosponsored by Out of the Pits, AnimaLovers, Peppertree Rescue, Good Shepard Canine Rescue and the Hudson-Mohawk Humane Society.

The goal for the Adopt-a-Thon is ultimately to find homes for the dogs and increase public awareness of the shelter. Owner and dog lover Wendy Cookingham was disappointed with the response Emerald Acres received from a series of advertisements, and decided the Adopt-a-Thon would inform more people about its services. She also hopes to increase the awareness of the various rescue groups, which she believes many people do not know about.

“We’re trying to get all the rescuers together in one place and enlighten people on what they do and how they do it,” said Cookingham.

Saturday’s events will feature agility demonstrations by the dogs—mostly by the pit bulls, which Cookingham feels are getting a bad rap.

Wendy and her husband Ron Cookingham began barking up this tree last December when they bought the shelter and kennel from the previous owners (who retired), and have devoted the last eight months to cleaning it and spending time with the dogs. Cookingham even uses her family to test the dogs’ interaction with children.

“We do the best we can to make their lives the best as possible while they’re here,” says Cookingham, who has four dogs of her own. “When they’re here, they’re like my dogs.”

The event sponsors work together every day to save dogs from being put down after wearing out their welcome at shelters. Often, one shelter can’t afford to keep a dog for a longer than six days.

Emerald Acres both searches for dogs’ owners and tries to find them a new home, posting doggy snapshots on the Web in hopes their owner or an interested party might be browsing.

—Jennifer Schulkind


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