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Push to make tests harder finds a critic in Buffalo schools chief

State education officials are responding to widespread calls to make state tests more difficult. But they’re getting some harsh criticism from a surprising corner: the head of the Buffalo school system.

As Education Commissioner David Steiner and Deputy Commissioner John King travel around New York explaining their plans to overhaul the state exams, they’ve largely met with support. In New York City, Schools Chancellor Joel Klein has called for tougher exams. But last week, Buffalo School Superintendent James Williams told The Buffalo News that he doubts Steiner and King’s approach will really improve the state’s schools.

“I think they’re two people who don’t know what they’re doing,” Williams said. “A more rigorous test is not going to improve student achievement. It’s not going to improve the graduation rate. I think it’s ridiculous.”

The state has already begun changing the content of the reading and math exams given annually to third through eighth graders and beginning this year, students will need higher scores on the tests to pass. Steiner and King, along with State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, are also calling for a new, more rigorous statewide curriculum. But Williams said that state officials are completing their work in the wrong order:

“There are three phases to improving education: One, you must have a curriculum. Next, you have the instruction. Then you do the assessment,” Williams said. “The State of New York seems to have it backwards. They’re talking about changing the assessment, but we don’t have a curriculum.”

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