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DeKalb changes schedule to avoid testing on Jewish holidays

Several DeKalb parents sent me notes over the weekend about the scheduling of standardized tests during the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

I had no doubt DeKalb Schools would fix that conflict, given the concern of parents. And it has.

In a letter to the district, a parents group, noting that testing has been changed in the past related to Halloween, wrote in part:

Certainly Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur—the Jewish new year and day of atonement—deserve equal treatment with Halloween.

This year Jews will observe these days--on which they go to synagogue instead of working or attending school--on Monday and Tuesday Sept 14-15 and Wednesday, Sept. 23.  The testing is scheduled from Sept 9-25.

If the school district maintains this schedule, it will pressure Jewish families to violate their religious tenets so that their children can have the best chance to qualify for gifted and other special programs.  They shouldn't have to make that choice.

We are writing on behalf of a large group of concerned Jewish parents from a host of DeKalb schools, who met at B'nai Torah synagogue on Sunday to discuss this problem. We learned that the testing was moved from October to September: to get test results earlier so that gifted programs could start sooner.  We applaud that goal. But achieving it this year, under the current schedule, treats Jews with remarkable insensitivity and subjects teachers and students to costly inefficiency.

One veteran DeKalb teacher who attended our meeting noted that on typical make-up test days, "the assistant principal runs around like crazy" tracking down all of the children who missed tests.  This chaos will surely be more intense this year, given hundreds of Jewish children who will need make-up tests.  Just as examples, it is estimated that Jews make up at least 10 percent of Dunwoody Elementary and about 10 percent of Montgomery Elementary schools.  Parents who have expressed concern with us have children also at Vanderlyn, Austin, Chesnut, Peachtree Middle and other DeKalb schools

The parents were heard.

From DeKalb Schools just now:

DeKalb County School District Superintendent Dr. R. Stephen Green announced today important changes to the school testing calendar for the Cognitive Abilities Test and the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills for the 2015-2016 school year.  These changes will remove all potential conflicts with religious observances.

The CogAT and ITBS are standardized tests used in the gifted identification process.

The revised testing calendar follows

Sept. 9, 10, 11, 16, 18, and 21 – ITBS

Sept. 22, 23, 24, and 25 – ITBS make-up

Oct. 5, 6,  and 7 – CogAT

Oct. 8 – CogAT make-up

“The revised school testing calendar removes all conflicts with religious holidays while ensuring timely testing for students,” said Dr. Green.  “We have been responsive to concerns that have been raised and we have sought and arrived at a solution that is in the best interest of our children.”

The Superintendent expressed appreciation for the work of the calendar committee that met in Fall 2014.  The committee was comprised of parents, teachers, students, business leaders, and administrators.

In reporting on the scheduling conflict , the AJC noted:

The calendar was put together by a committee last October before Green took his job, with members signing off on the fact that testing would take place during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. In the process, about 6,000 surveys were collected from parents, teachers and other “stakeholders,” Green said. At no time did the holiday conflict come up as a major issue.

Green cautioned that several other holidays fall during the first two months of the school year that have to be taken into account when putting together the schedule, including the Islamic holidays Day of Arafat and Eid-ul-Adha.

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Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.