The Empire State’s new tests: In Tuesday’s New York Times, Kyle Spencer described the tension surrounding New York’s new statewide tests.
Quick rule of thumb: If you have to prepare for testing this way, something is wrong with your tests:
SPENCER (4/16/13): At Public School 10 on the edge of Park Slope, Brooklyn, parents begged the principal to postpone the lower school science fair, insisting it was going to add too much pressure while they were preparing their children for the coming state tests.If you need such stressful “prep exercises," something’s bad wrong with your tests.
On Staten Island, a community meeting devolved into a series of student stress stories, with one parent recounting how his son had woken up from a bad dream, mumbling that he had forgotten to fill in a bubble answer.
And at Public School 24 in the Riverdale neighborhood in the Bronx, a fifth-grade teacher, Walter Rendon, has found himself soothing tense 10- and 11-year-olds as they pore over test prep exercises. “Sometimes, I say: ‘Just breathe.’ ”
As we’ve often said, we can’t imagine running an urban school system without an annual standardized test. Parents deserve an (approximate) measure of their children’s progress with basic skills. In the absence of some such measure, many urban systems will engage in a whole lot of lying, to the parents themselves and to the public as well.
That said, the stress that has been placed on these tests has made them almost unusable—and there has been a lot of lying within the testing programs. The press corps has played its usual role in the mayhem, failing to discern or report even the most obvious problems.
(For ourselves, we first reported cheating on standardized tests to, and then in, the Baltimore Sun in the 1970s. This is not a new phenomenon. It only took about thirty-five years for the mainstream press to catch on.)
Back to New York: If your test prep is that stressful, something is wrong with your tests. But in the city and state of New York, there is another major problem with this year’s new statewide tests:
This year, it’s testing first, instruction later!
As he continues, Spencer explains the basic problem. The tests are designed to test a new curriculum—a new curriculum which the students haven’t yet been taught:
SPENCER: [T]his year’s tests, which begin Tuesday, are unlike any exams the students have seen. They have been redesigned and are tougher. And they are likely to cover at least some material that has yet to make its way into the curriculum.Presumably, that last sentence really means this: Passing rates “will most likely fall from last year’s levels.” If the state is administering a new set of tests, it’s hard to know how you compare “scores” from one year to the next.
The new tests, given to third through eighth graders, are intended to align with Common Core standards, a set of unified academic guidelines adopted by almost every state and goaded by grant money offered by the Obama administration. They set more rigorous classroom goals for American students, with a focus on critical thinking skills, abstract reasoning in math and reading comprehension.
But the standards are so new that many New York schools have yet to fully adopt new curriculums—including reading material, lesson plans and exercises—to match. And the textbook industry has not completely caught up either. State and city officials have urged teachers over the last year to begin working in some elements of new curriculums, and have offered lesson plans and tutorials on official Web sites. But they acknowledge that scores will most likely fall from last year’s levels.
In truth, it isn’t the end of the world if New York schools administer the new tests before they teach the new curriculum, though it’s hard to know why a state would want to proceed in that way. But uh-oh:
As he continues, Spencer murkily recalls the largely covered-up statewide scandal which has led to this strange procedure: “Officials defend the decision to switch tests now, saying that previous exams have gone from easy to easier, providing a poor indication of student competency.”
Spencer is too polite to explain the process by which the previous statewide tests mysteriously went “from easy to easier.” As a courtesy to the state of New York, the Times has never tried to explain that matter in all its ugly detail.
Whatever! A bit later, Spencer helps us see how poorly this mollycoddled state is functioning at this juncture:
SPENCER: The sink-or-swim approach is of particular concern to students (and their parents) in the fourth and seventh grades, whose scores could determine where they go to middle or high school in 2014. “It really makes me nervous,” said Patrick Timoney, a seventh grader at Intermediate School 2, on Staten Island. “It’s a big deal and if you don’t get a good grade, it’s not the best.”In short, some kids will be kept from schools they prefer because they didn’t do well enough on a test of material they have never been taught! The Mad Hatter developed this program!
To cope, schools like Public School 3 in the West Village and Middle School 51 in Park Slope have begun intensive weekend and after-school prep classes, where students are briefed on how to perform math equations that might appear on the tests, in some cases using material they have not previously been taught. At other schools, they are plowing through practice booklets, dissecting Victorian-era poems, Japanese folk tales, and in some cases, instructional manuals at levels that teachers and parents say the students have not encountered.
Testing now, instruction later! This is the kind of serial mess our education elites have been generating for much of the past forty years. During most of this time, our “educational experts” have puttered about, failing to notice or foresee even the most obvious problems.
We liberals walked away from these topics a long time ago. When our TV stars try to discuss such topics, the results can be quite gruesome.
Testing now, instruction next year! Into this mess step the experts from Harvard. God bless the teachers and kids.