The Malignant Culture of Testing: Tests Should Be a Tool to Improve Instruction, Not A Hammer to Punish Children, Teachers and Schools.

Teachers and kids in elementary schools are breathing a sigh of relief … the ELA tests are over. This week Middle Schools undergo the ordeal and High School Regents Exams begin January 22nd. Andy Wolf, in the NY Sun is concerned about the lack of supervision by the Department and the possibility of cheating  and another Sun writer urges parents to take their kids out of school on testing days .
Testing is not new, New York State has required standardized tests for many decades. The New York Times  published the test results in ascending order: at the top of the list some school in Bayside and at the other end a school in the Bronx. One school located on a lovely tree lined street with private homes and the other in a crack ravaged neighborhood with burned out buildings.
Today, however, test scores are not a one day news phenomenon. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) can have dire consequences. If a school does not make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) the school slips into the Schools In Need of Improvement (SINI) category and if scores continue to ebb the school faces possible closing.
In New York City, in addition to State sanctions the School Progress Report, although a growth model, is still primarily based on test scores. Letter grades of “D” or “F” can also lead to closings.
For kids the test results can lead to being “held over.” Again, nothing new, previous chancellors devised “Gates,” bars to moving ahead without improving test scores .
The bottom line: kids still move on to high school well below standards … lets look at two of the high schools slated for closing.
At Franklin K Lane High School 15.6% of students entered the 9th grade “at or above standard” in ELA, while at Canarsie High School 12.8% of entering 9th grade student were “at or above standard.”
In spite of the “back-slapping,” the self-congratulation, the data is distressing, huge numbers of kids are not meeting standards, and,  the Department moves kids into high school who have little or no chance of passing Regents exams.
The threat of school closings and/or the removal of principals drives educational policy at school levels. The Department provides schools with mountains of data, i. e., periodic interim assessments, which result in endless test prep in too many schools. Some schools integrate test prep in usual classroom instruction,  other schools simply “drill and kill.”
I am not against testing: parents and teachers must know how kids are doing and how they are doing. Tests not only “rate” kids they “rate” the effectiveness of the instruction.
The Department is NOT providing the tools: the teacher supports, the range of “instruments,” both physical (i. e., books, computers, maps etc.) and the intellectual supports (teacher centers, mentors, coaches, opportunities to meet with and exchange ideas with colleagues), that produce effective schools, yes, as measured by test scores.
The current melange of Support Organizations and independent, entrepreneur principals, measured solely by test scores, with a scimitar of school closings/principal removals does not serve our children.

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