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NCLB Outrages

Lost Lessons in Test-Prep Craze

Ohanian Question: Why should third graders know who the president during the Civil War was? No one is more opposed to a curriculum of test prep than I, but let's not get crazy here.

Truth in disclosure: When I taught third grade in New York state, the social studies textbooks were so terrible I never taught social studies according to the standards. One extended social studies lesson I offered was reading aloud The Trumpet of the Swan. I felt that the social studies skills contained therein were infinitely more valuable that the state-mandated learning how a city forms its budget.

That said, I agree with the teacher observation that what they are doing is institutionalized child abuse. So when are they going to band together and stop? Just obeying orders is NOT a defense.

By Angela Montefinise

EXAM HELL: Kids are so overloaded with test prep that they're not getting "actual education," teachers say.

For a month, third-graders at one Brooklyn elementary school had only two social-studies lessons.

Their teacher said she was too busy teaching kids test-taking strategies.

"The kids can't tell you who the president was during the Civil War," she said. "But they can tell you how to eliminate answers on a multiple-choice test. And as long as our test scores are up, everyone will be happy.

"That's education?"

The teacher, who requested anonymity, said she was ordered by her principal to "forget about everything except test prep" over the four weeks prior to this month's statewide English tests.

"All anyone cares about now are test scores," she lamented.

Since the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 brought high-stakes testing to the nation, city teachers have complained that statewide tests and test preparation have dominated class time. Now, they say, the situation is getting worse.

With Mayor Bloomberg's announcement of plans to crack down on tenure, teachers fear test scores will become even more important than other performance indicators.

They also fear the focus on tests will grow as a city science test for grades 3 through 8 debuts in 2007-08 and a city social-studies test arrives for the same grades in 2008-09. Currently, only two grades take those tests.

"My students haven't done science or social studies since three weeks before the ELA [English language arts] exam," said Jennifer Giovinazzo, a fourth-grade teacher at PS 14 in Staten Island who attended a forum on testing last week.

"We did one period of science today, and I had to review everything we learned from before the reading test," she said. "That took the whole period. Nothing new was learned."

She said her students get prep during lunch and aren't getting additional classes like art. "The kids don't even know what a crayon is," she said.

Another teacher called it "institutionalized child abuse."

There are no systemwide rules for test prep. Individual schools decide how much is necessary.

Principals are partially evaluated on test scores, so "naturally, they want the scores up, [and] that's our priority," one teacher said. "Actual education is second."

The teachers union blasted the focus on testing, and the teaching time lost to test preparation.

"I think there is even more time devoted to test prep than even two years ago," said Randi Weingarten, head of the United Federation of Teachers.

Tests are crucial because they "give schools valuable information that they use to pinpoint students' strengths and weaknesses and create academic plans to address them," said city Department of Education spokesman Andrew Jacob.


— Angela Montefinise
New York Post


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