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Latest practice testing is another state-mandated exercise in futility

Go, Superintendent Bill Calla!!

Others should do likewise.

by Juan Gonzalez

Students and teachers at 1,100 city schools -- plus an additional 3,000 statewide -- are confronting more state-mandated tests this week.

For the third straight year, the state and its testing company, Pearson, are conducting stand-alone field testing for several hundred thousand pupils -- tests that don't count but are used to identify possible items for next year̢۪s state tests.

Albany educrats aren't satisfied with students enduring six days of high-stakes testing each spring, plus weeks of test prep.

They want to also make them unpaid guinea pigs in a process guaranteed to produce unreliable results. That's because when students know it̢۪s a stand-alone "practice" exam, they rarely put in much effort.

"At my school, the teachers had to fight with the kids to sit down and take it," said a teacher at Public School 153 in Harlem, where fourth-graders were handed a science field test this week.

"We're so overtested it's beyond belief," William Calla, the superintendent of the Fairport Central School District in suburban Rochester, said. That̢۪s why he is among some 20 school superintendents who have rebelled this time.

"There's absolutely nothing in the commissioner's regulations or federal education law that requires us to give these tests," Calla said. "I just shipped the test package back unopened."

While the city schools chief has said state-mandated tests will not define student performance, still students remain strained by state testing.

Their revolt is one more sign of the spreading furor nationwide against politicians̢۪ obsession with test-taking.

City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña has joined the furor -- at least in words. She has already declared standardized tests will no longer be used as a sole measure of performance in city schools.

"We understand the frustration among parents and educators with the frequency of testing," Fariña's spokeswoman, Devora Kaye, said. "This (field testing) is one of many practices we plan to review this summer and evaluate for the coming year."

Unlike Superintendent Calla, however, Fariña allowed the state field tests to go ahead.

In doing so, she appears to be heeding those top-level holdovers from the Bloomberg era who, inexplicably, still surround her at Tweed.

(You don't get rid of a failed policy, Chancellor, by keeping the very people who championed it.)

Meanwhile, up in Albany, state officials defended this week's field testing as necessary to ensure the quality of future test questions.

That's true when field test items are embedded in a regular state exam, not in a stand-alone one of practice questions.

But the state's $32 million contract with Pearson didn't provide money to develop enough different forms of each grade's test, with a sufficient number of "field test" items, to avoid the need for a stand-alone field test exam.

That would cost an additional $8 million annually, state Education Department spokesman Dennis Tompkins said, but the Legislature and the governor have not earmarked the money.

So a few hundred thousand children are forced to take an unreliable practice test to save the state some money.

A textbook case of testing out of control.

— Juan Gonzalez
New York Daily News





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