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A Tough New Test Spurs Protest and Tears


Ohanian Comment: Kudos to parents and kids at South Side Middle School in Rockville Centre, on Long Island, where more than half the students opted out.

David Coleman said he did not understand skepticism about the tests. There's a whole lot David Coleman doesn't understand.

I received an e-mail from the parent of a third grader whose principal promised extra recess all kids who score proficient or higher. The parent knows this is wrong and asked for information to give the principal. I sent Edward Deci's research on motivation. And also an interview with Daniel Pink. But a principal who makes such a promise is traveling on corporate soundbites and I'm not optimistic enough to think he will be influenced by information from a psychologist and a motivation guru, no matter how eminent they are.

Nonetheless, one must try. That's what this website is about: trying.


By Javier C. Hernandez and Al Baker

Students at the Hostos-Lincoln Academy in the Bronx blamed the English exams for making them anxious and sick. Teachers at Public School 152 in Manhattan said they had never seen so many blank stares. Parents at the Earth School in the East Village were so displeased that they organized a boycott.

As New York this week became one of the first states to unveil a set of exams grounded in new curricular standards, education leaders are finding that rallying the public behind tougher tests may be more difficult than they expected.

Complaints were plentiful: the tests were too long; students were demoralized to the point of tears; teachers were not adequately prepared. Some parents, long skeptical of the emphasis on standardized testing, forbade their children from participating.

Maya Velasquez, 14, an eighth grader at the Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science and Engineering in Upper Manhattan said she had done well on tests in the past. But when a teacher on Wednesday informed her class that only 15 minutes remained in the exam, she knew she was in trouble. She had only written an introduction to her essay.

"All the kids were, like, open-mouthed, crazy-shocked and very upset," she said.

Education officials said that any big change, especially one aimed at making it harder to earn a diploma, would attract critics. Anticipating some frustration, the city embarked on a flashy media campaign, producing advertisements warning of the higher standards, known as Common Core.

Ken Wagner, who oversees testing for the New York State Education Department, said the feedback that tests provided was essential for preparing students for college and the work force. The scores are also used in some districts to determine promotions and admission to selective middle or high schools. New York City education officials said children without test scores would have to go through alternative evaluations.

Mr. Wagner said that he worried that parentsâ concerns were rubbing off on children and hurting their confidence.

"My heart goes out to any kid thatâs suffering stress or anxiety," Mr. Wagner said. But, he added, "We have to think very strategically about the messages that students are getting from the adults they are around."

English exams were given this week for students in the third through eighth grades; math tests begin next week.

Some parents, particularly at elite schools in Manhattan and Brooklyn, have withdrawn their children from testing this year, joining a broader nationwide opt-out movement.

At the Earth School, about one-third of students slated to take the tests decided to sit out, parents said.

"The current boycott is against the one song the mayor and the rest of the country have been increasingly singing, which is: test scores, test scores, test scores," said Casey Fuetsch, a member of the Earth School's parent advocacy group.

Even outside of New York City, there was an unusual amount of protest.

At South Side Middle School in Rockville Centre, on Long Island, more than half of the eighth-grade class, 134 out of 260 students, opted out of the exams, according to the principal, Shelagh McGinn.

Katie Zahedi, the principal at Linden Avenue Middle School in the Hudson Valley town of Red Hook, where 55 out of 480 students opted out, said education officials too often assumed that more testing would improve results.

"The amount of disruption this is creating is actually a threat to the quality of education," Dr. Zahedi said.

Adopted by 45 states, Common Core aims to foster independent thinking, with an emphasis on relating material to real-world issues. Common Core tests made their debut in Kentucky last year, and scores fell significantly.

New York officials are expecting a similar decline. But officials say leaving the old standards intact would be worse, forcing thousands of students into costly remediation programs in college.

David Coleman, president of the College Board and an architect of the Common Core standards, said he did not understand skepticism about the tests.

"When the alternative is shallower passages and shallower questions, what are we debating here?" he said.

Across the city on Thursday, teachers and principals reported that the test required more stamina and concentration than students were used to.

Students said they struggled with questions that asked them to discuss how a writer constructed a story rather than about the content of the passage itself. One question, for instance, asked students to analyze how an author built suspense in describing a girl whose rope snapped while in a cave.

At the Computer School on the Upper West Side, students said teachers had warned them that the test would be the most challenging they had taken. âWhen they ask, âWhatâs the main idea?â and you have to put it in your own words, itâs a lot harder,â said Ron Yogev, a sixth grader.

Many did not finish, and some students said classmates were crying at the end. Mr. Wagner said the state was aware of complaints about the time allowed for the test and would look more extensively at the results to determine whether a change was necessary.

For all the concern, some students were unfazed by the new exams.

Jonathan Steuer, the parent of a third-grade girl at the Neighborhood School, said he was not sure why there was such an outcry.

âIt was built up into this thing,â he said. After the test, according to Mr. Steuer, his daughter said simply, âIt was a snap.â

Kyle Spencer and Vivian Yee contributed reporting.

— Javier C. Hernandez and Al Baker
New York Times

2013-04-19

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/19/education/common-core-testing-spurs-outrage-and-protest-among-parents.html?emc=tnt&tntemail0=y

NY


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