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NCLB Outrages

New York City Expands Test Program in Schools

The test results will not be used for decisions on promoting teachers, whether they should be granted tenure, or how to grade schools. . . . Promoting teachers? Is this a reporter miscue--or what?

The schools chancellor insists that more testing means more learning.

Anyone who has ever seen the questions used to evaluate student proficiency on the secret CTB/McGraw-Hill tests will be made sick by these articles. These are the test writers who gave 4th graders a reading passage based on Elijah McCoy's inventiveness. Then, students were asked to look at pictures of various types of maple syrup labels and judge which was "the real McCoy."

By Julie Bosman

Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein announced yesterday that the city school system would spend $80 million over five years on a battery of new standardized tests to begin this fall for most of New York Cityâs 1.1 million public school students.

The contract awarded to the testing giant CTB/McGraw-Hill will involve a significant expansion of exams, known as periodic tests, which monitor studentsâ progress and are supposed to help predict how students will perform in the annual state exams. Mr. Kleinâs announcement immediately rekindled the debate over whether such testing is emphasized too much or is even a useful tool for teachers.

Pupils in Grades 3 through 8 will be tested five times a year in both reading and math, instead of three times as they are now. High school students, for the first time, will be tested four times a year in each subject. In the next few years, the tests will expand to include science and social studies.

The test results will not be used for decisions on promoting teachers, whether they should be granted tenure, or how to grade schools, Mr. Klein said at an afternoon news conference. He called them a way to spot students who are falling behind.

âI donât think it means more pressure,â Mr. Klein said. âI think it means more learning.â He said the present testing regime was âtoo intermittentâ to help teachers judge progress.

The annual state exams in Grades 3 through 8 are used to measure a schoolâs performance in meeting requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law. Under the law, schools that fail to show adequate yearly progress face potential penalties.

Few major cities administer standardized tests as frequently as five times a year, several education experts said, and the move instantly drew criticism from the array of groups that have mobilized against the growing reliance on standardized tests that has accompanied the No Child Left Behind law.

âItâs certainly more than any other city than I know of,â said Monty Neill, an executive director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing in Boston, which is skeptical of standardized testing. âWeâve reduced schooling to preparing for bubble tests.â

Randi Weingarten, the president of the United Federation of Teachers, said in an interview that many teachers say they already spend at least one day a week preparing for standardized tests. âOur issue is, how much teaching time is this eating up?â she said. âYouâre spending a lot of time doing test prep and doing paperwork associated with test prep instead of teaching.â

She added that it would be illegal for the city to use the tests to advance or slow the careers of teachers.

In Chicago, a city whose public schools rely heavily on periodic testing, students in Grades 3 through 8 are tested three times a year, said Linda Bendixen, a spokeswoman for the Chicago public schools. A small but expanding group of high schools are tested four times a year, she added.

Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools in Washington, a lobbying group for large urban school systems, said such testing of elementary schoolchildren has become more common. âItâs been a growing trend for at least the last five to seven years,â Mr. Casserly said. âBut itâs more unusual for cities to use interim tests at the high school level. New York is breaking some new ground on that front.â

City Education Department officials said the exams would make teachersâ jobs easier, giving them the ability to produce instant results and help pinpoint which students are falling behind. The tests are devised to be taken in a typical 45-minute class period, either online or using the traditional pencil and paper. Teachers will be able to draw from a bank of questions to customize the tests to their own curriculum, choosing from a mix of multiple choice or open-ended questions.

The results for tests taken online will be available immediately, and for pencil and paper tests, the results will arrive in five days. Principals will then be able to analyze the data to better understand how students perform and what teachers can do to help them, city officials said.

James Liebman, the chief accountability officer for the Education Department, said, âThis gives us the capacity to hone in and figure out where the problems are.â

Mr. Casserly, of the Council of the Great City Schools, said he has seen the tests used to good effect in some school districts. âThey can be helpful and useful when theyâre well designed, and when they yield good data that teachers know how to interpret, and where thereâs follow-up and support,â he said.

He said, however, that he had also seen disastrous results.

Jane R. Hirschmann, of Time Out From Testing, a statewide group that has argued against standardized tests, said she believes that the curriculum in schools is being driven by the tests. âNow the whole city system is based on test prep and test taking,â she said.

CIT/McGraw-Hill is one of the major sources of standardized tests and is a provider of New York Stateâs standardized exams. Previously, the city had a contract for periodic testing with The Princeton Review, better known for preparing students for exams for college and graduate school admissions.

— Julie Bosman
New York Times


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