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Tests Should Be a Tool, Not A Hammer

[Editor’s note: Peter Goodman blogs at Ed in the Apple, where this post originally appeared.]

Teachers and kids in elementary schools are breathing a sigh of relief … the ELA tests are over. This week Middle Schools undergo the ordeal, and High School Regents Exams begin January 22nd. Andy Wolf in the NY Sun is concerned about the lack of supervision by the Department and the possibility of cheating, while another Sun writer urges parents to take their kids out of school on testing days.

Testing is not new. New York State has required standardized tests for many decades. The New York Times published the test results in ascending order: at the top of the list some school in Bayside, and at the other end a school in the Bronx. One school located on a lovely tree lined street with private homes … and the other in a crack ravaged neighborhood with burned out buildings.

Today, however, test scores are not a one day news phenomenon. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) can have dire consequences. If a school does not make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) the school slips into the Schools In Need of Improvement (SINI) category, and if scores continue to ebb the school faces possible closing.

In addition to State sanctions, New York City has the School Progress Report. Although a growth model, it is still primarily based on test scores. Letter grades of “D” or “F” can also lead to closings.

For kids the test results can lead to being “held over.” Again, nothing new, previous chancellors devised “Gates,” bars to moving ahead without improving test scores.

The bottom line: kids still move on to high school well below standards … let’s look at two of the high schools slated for closing. At Franklin K Lane High School, 15.6% of students entered the 9th grade “at or above standard” in ELA, while at Canarsie High School 12.8% of entering 9th grade student were “at or above standard.”

In spite of the “back-slapping,” the self-congratulation, the data is distressing. Huge numbers of kids are not meeting standards, and the Department moves kids into high school who have little or no chance of passing Regents exams.

The threat of school closings and/or the removal of principals drives educational policy at school levels. The Department provides schools with mountains of data, i. e. periodic interim assessments, which result in endless test prep in too many schools. Some schools integrate test prep in usual classroom instruction, other schools simply “drill and kill.”

I am not against testing: parents and teachers must know how kids are doing and how they are doing. Tests not only “rate” kids they “rate” the effectiveness of the instruction.

The Department is NOT providing the tools – the teacher supports, the range of “instruments,” both physical (i. e. books, computers, maps, etc.) and the intellectual supports (teacher centers, mentors, coaches, opportunities to meet with and exchange ideas with colleagues) – that produce effective schools, yes, as measured by test scores.

The current melange of Support Organizations and independent, entrepreneur principals, measured solely by test scores, with a scimitar of school closings/principal removals, does not serve our children.



  • 1 phyllis c. murray
    · Jan 18, 2008 at 3:12 am

    Our youth are in crisis. And the educational system is in crisis. This means that we need to look for ways to end the cycle of failure which is systemic throughout the impoverished inner city communities. Everyone should be involved in the process of ameliorating this situation. If not, that is the problem.

    Since one size does not fit all, we should certainly try to look at exemplary programs for our schools which will work. Of course there are success stories whenever these programs work and enable students to reach their academic potential. Nevertheless, we are constantly assessing the progress of students and tailoring instruction to meet their needs. The hours spent by effective teachers are incalculable. But at least as educators we try because we are dealing with human lives.We try because the alternative of not trying is too costly as prisons await those children who have failed to become productive citizens. We try because the school to prison pipeline is a reality for far too many of our students as police in our schools takeover the role once reserved for teachers and administrators.

    Educators in NYC public schools know that smaller class size is a priority; adequate resources are a priority; staff development is a priority; and parent participation is a necessity. We know that we need highly qualified teachers, paraprofessionals, social workers, guidance counselors, psychologists,mentors, administrators, and union leaders. Surely, the schools that have the aforementioned cadre of professionals are fortunate.

    However, it is unfortunate that NYC has left parents and teachers out of the decision making process for too long. However, because of the UFT political action, parents and teachers have never stopped advocating for children in City Hall, in Albany and in Washington, DC. Therefore, I applaud any positive effort that is being made on behalf of children in NYC. Certainly, we have a long way to go. But we must pull out all stops to make this broken system work.

    NYC Public School System was once a viable force for its earliest immigrants, like Henry Kissinger, who attended George Washington High School at night and worked in a shaving-brush factory during the day. Today, the NYC Public Schools must work for all of its students, again. Arthur Eisenberg is right: “The state must seek to break the cycle of discrimination and disadvantage”. Certainly, the future of America,as a strong nation, depends on it.

    Phyllis C. Murray
    UFT Chapter Leader
    District 8
    South Bronx

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