Reluctant schools set to test third-graders
By Eileen FitzGerald
In New Milford, Northville Elementary School principal Thomas Atticks is getting ready to test third-graders next spring — and he's not happy about it.
By March, his third-grade teachers will give students practice questions and make sure the children understand the format of the test: They have to find and fill in the bubble with the correct answer to the question.
"And we'll tell them that 'For the next 45 minutes you can't go to the bathroom and no one can get sick,' " Atticks said. "It's torture. It's ridiculous stuff."
The federal No Child Left Behind Act requires states to increase the number of students tested each year. Since 1987, Connecticut has tested fourth-, sixth-, eighth- and 10th-graders. Beginning in the spring, states must test third-, fifth- and seventh-graders too.
The new testing requirement, which educators argue comes without enough federal money to fund the test, is one of the most hotly protested aspects of the controversial law.
Some hope the lawsuit Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal filed Monday against the federal government will provide some relief. "Attorney General Blumenthal at least shows the sense that something has to be done politically to deal with this," Atticks said.
Bethel elementary school principal A. Brian Kirmil said his district forged short-term and long-range plans to deal with the added tests.
The district will begin preparation in kindergarten. Students will be tested when they enter school and educators will tell parents where their children should be at the end of the year.
"To prepare students, the teachers will show students how to take the test," Kirmil said. "The teachers have worked on Connecticut Mastery Test preparation. They'll show them how to dissect a paragraph and back it up."
Teachers also will identify third-graders having trouble reading and give them extra help.
"Some may get help three times a day for short sprints," Kirmil said. "A lot of things we've been doing. We're going to step it up."
Danbury Superintendent Eddie Davis said the testing places a major demand on the instructional program.
"In March and April we will focus on preparing for the test. It will take away from the continued type of instruction around a broader sense of skill building," Davis said. "It's not going to give us any additional information about the students. It's a block of time we will be dedicating to testing. I know people will argue that testing is a form of instruction, and it is. But in my opinion, it is myopic."
Davis said Blumenthal's lawsuit might put a spotlight on how the federal law takes the responsibility for educating children away from schools without providing more money to support the added requirements.
"I don't think it changes what we do day-to-day in the classroom," Davis said. "Lawsuits are lawsuits. They don't buy immediate relief. It can send a message to the federal government."
Danbury associate superintendent William Glass is among the minority of educators who speaks out in support of added testing.
He said he defends more tests because the state's CMT is given by teachers who know how to give the test, and it shows student progress.
"I don't like waiting two years between testing cycles. There is too much valuable information that we can gather to do a better job of instructing the students," Glass said.
But he agreed with many of his colleagues who criticize the way the tests are used and how the law is funded.
"There are very, very serious flaws in the law that are harmful to children and schools. But it's too simplistic to say it's going to cost too much money. That's a political argument," Glass said. "I totally agree it's an under-funded mandate."
Atticks said he would try to keep younger students from worrying too much about the tests.
"The key is to keep it in perspective," Atticks said. "I will try to protect the kids from the bureaucracy of standardized tests. Standardized tests don't tell us much we don't already know. It's basically meaningless. It only has meaning for the politicians."
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