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Students, Teachers Sweating High-Stakes Tests as Parents Rebel Against Constant Prep

Ohanian Comment: "Some parents rebel"; when will teachers?

Third graders spending 2 1/2 hours a day on test prep. The world has gone mad.

Should the contents of the secret McGraw-Hill tests be examined very carefully before ceding anywhere near this importance to them? As test expert Walt Haney has observed, there's much more quality control on dog food than on standardized tests.

Does anyone ever think about what kind of adults this drill kill will produce?

By Meredith Kolodner

The pressure's on city students Tuesday as they begin taking a round of high-stakes standardized tests.

Children in third grade through eighth grade have been practicing for weeks - sometimes months - for the state reading and math exams in a bid to boost scores that plunged last year.

"There's extra pressure this year on the teachers and on the students because the teachers feel it," said parent activist Erica Perez, whose children attend Junior High School 302 and Public School 345 in East New York, Brooklyn.

"They're pushing the children, but not in the way that's conducive for their learning."

JHS 302 was on the list of schools facing closure this year after only 21% of the students passed last year's state reading exam and 28% passed in math. Perez's sixth-grade daughter, Evangelina, 11, began three days of after-school test prep in the fall.

Children who flunk the tests can be held back, but kids aren't the only ones whose futures are riding on the exams.

Schools that don't show improvement on the tests could be shut, and teacher tenure decisions are now directly linked to student performance on the exams.

Last year, pass rates on the reading exam dropped to 42% from 69% the previous year and to 54% from 82% in math.

The city has already decided to close a record 27 schools this year because of poor performance.

It may also soon release teacher ratings based on student test performance to the public.

Many students took test prep packets home over the spring break.

At Harlem Success Academy IV, students came to school during the vacation for test prep, teachers said.

PS 151 in Woodside, Queens, has devoted three periods a day to test prep since March.

Third-grade teacher Sam Coleman said his Brooklyn elementary school has been spending 2-1/2 hours a day prepping since March.

"We do a lot of great stuff during most of the year, but we hit this season and we end up putting that all aside," Coleman said. "You can make it not a total waste [of] time, but it's still not good teaching."

Education Department officials said test prep was not their priority.

"Many schools choose to complement instruction with periodic assessments, but this is not mandatory," said spokesman Matthew Mittenthal.

Students are graded on a scale of 1 to 4, with Levels 1 and 2 failing and Levels 3 and 4 passing. Results are expected in the summer.

Some parents welcomed the extra prep. Cristina Plaza, whose son Isaiah is in fifth grade at PS 145 in Bushwick, Brooklyn, said she was grateful the school paid for a tutor who has come to their home twice a week since October.

"I like it because it helps him a lot," said Plaza.

But Sonya Hampton said the stress on her daughter Jerica, who is in seventh grade at PS 149 in Harlem, had "taken the joy out of learning."

"Learning shouldn't be like that rigorous job that you hate going to," said Hampton. "They're test-prepping us to death, but we don't have a choice."


— Meredith Kolodner
New York Daily News


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