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Alternative Schools

Written by Steve Sanders on 05-16-2001

Assemblyman Steven Sanders (D.Man) Chairman of the Education Committee has today urged State Education Commissioner Richard Mills to revise his policy with respect to 37 alternative schools most of which are high schools. Sanders said that these schools are members of a consortium of schools which were originally sanctioned by former State Education Commissioner Thomas Sobol and are now in jeopardy of being eliminated.

Sanders said Mills's policy could effectively destroy the schools. Under the original compact, schools were permitted to operate with non-traditional educational methods and to assess their students with portfolio-driven evaluations. Many of the 6,000 students enrolled in these high schools from around the state were previously at risk of dropping out and are now succeeding to both graduate and be accepted to colleges and universities. Sanders said that while Mills's declaration that these schools convert to traditional educational formats and high-stakes testing for students who enroll as of this coming September "flies in the fact of proven success and even ignores the observations and recommendations of his own Blue Ribbon panel of experts. "Commissioner Mills has become a zealot on the issue of standardized high-stakes exams. He ignores the fact that many schools are in fact succeeding with alternative methods even as most of our more conventional high schools do less well. "Moreover," Sanders continued, "his preoccupation has evidently even blinded him to the report issued several weeks ago by the Blue Ribbon Panel on the New York Performance Standards Consortium, which urged that an additional three-year waiver be provided to these schools while additional information could be compiled to better assess the effectiveness of these consortium high schools. Sanders said that Mills is "sacrificing success in exchange for adherence to testing ideology and uniformity of methods. "The best education program is one that works. Here we have witnessed a success story where thousands of students have and are succeeding. While other schools were unable to reach these kids. To effectively kill these programs by forcing a kind of conformity because it is easier or more convenient for the State Education Department is unreasonable." Sanders said that he believes that high stakes standardized tests are

not necessarily the only or the best method of measuring how well students or schools are doing in meeting rigorous standards of academic achievement. "A well-conceived system of assessment based on portfolios and the evaluation of these portfolios by education personnel in a school is an accepted method of gauging education accomplishment and one which

is used by many universities. "For Commissioner Mills to ignore the validity of other methods of teaching and learning, especially in schools with a good track record of success, is a terrible mistake. He should revise his policy towards these schools before it is too late.

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