A group of Jewish parents and religious leaders want DeKalb County school officials to reschedule the date students  take ITBS tests next month. They say the current dates  conflict with Jewish holy days.

Rabbi Joshua Heller of B’nai Torah said about 50 families were represented Aug. 23 at a meeting to discuss the test schedule, set for a period overlaps with Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Parents have posted updates about the controversy on Facebook at www.facebook.com/ResolveDekalbITBSTesting.

DeKalb County Commissioner Nancy Jester wrote DeKalb Superintendent Stephen Green on Aug. 24 to ask for a new test schedule. “The testing window includes two of the most sacred holy days for the Jewish faith,” she wrote. “We are also the only metro district that has chosen to administer these tests in such a way as to conflict with these important holidays.”

Heller said the tests have significant impact for teachers and students.

“This is potentially harmful to teachers and the district,” Heller said considering that in some schools as many as 15 percent of the students would have to make up the test at a later date, under less than ideal circumstances.

“Standardized testing has become a much more significant issue than it was a decade ago,” Heller said. “The impact of that testing has become much more significant.”

Heller said he and other local religious leaders plan to send a letter to DeKalb County school officials this week.

Jester attended the Aug. 23 meeting with her husband, Stan Jester, who is a member of the DeKalb County School Board. Here is the text of her letter to the superintendent:

August 24, 2015
Dr. R. Stephen Green, Superintendent
1701 Mountain Industrial Boulevard

Stone Mountain, Georgia 30083
Dr. Green,
I am writing today to express my concern about the dates for the upcoming administration of the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) and the Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT) in the DeKalb County School District. As you know, the testing window includes two of the most sacred holy days for the Jewish faith. We are also the only metro district that has chosen to administer these tests in such a way as to conflict with these important holidays (1).
I do recognize that the movement of the testing window to mid-September is an attempt to help identify and deploy resources more quickly for those students that are identified as “gifted”. I commend the administration for recognizing the need to improve on this aspect of education. As a mom with two children in elementary school and one in middle school, I fully recognize the challenges of this process and its timeline. But, surely the faith traditions of our friends and neighbors must be given considerable weight when crafting the testing calendar. In 2011, the school district was advised by parents in early October that the testing schedule would include the day after Halloween. Parents pointed out the myriad of problems this created for students and communities, and the district, wisely, adjusted the schedule (2). When the district is flexible and listens to the community, it gains credibility and goodwill. I believe that our current scheduling conflicts represent just such an opportunity again.
DeKalb County has a large, vibrant, and active Jewish community. Several schools have such significant numbers of Jewish students that the current testing schedule may prove to be disproportionately disruptive and burdensome. We also have a number of Jewish teachers who will be forced to choose between their faith and the wellbeing of their students. The amount of make-up tests and substitute teachers that will likely be needed will result in the loss of regular instructional time at far greater levels than for other communities. This will create a hectic environment for our Jewish students and their non-Jewish classmates.
I respectfully ask that you and your administration reconsider the testing window for ITBS and CogAT. I know that you inherited this calendar from your predecessor. Please fix the mistake made by the previous administration and eliminate the scheduling conflict with the testing dates and the Jewish holidays. Please join me in standing with our Jewish students, teachers, friends, and neighbors so that they can fully observe their sacred, holy days. Please make sure that all of our students can have the optimal testing environment they all deserve.
Nancy Jester

DeKalb County, District 1

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