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Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell… They’re Passing

October 25, 2010
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By Lisa North, 2nd grade CTT teacher at P.S. 3

The State Education Department’s lowering of the test scores over the summer has left many teachers and schools in a quandary. Most school administrators and teachers have known for a long time that the tests were getting easier. You would often hear in school,” It’s an election year, we know the scores will go up!”

What could we tell parents? Your child received a level 3, but they are NOT on grade level. There was little motivation for a 3rd grade student who could barely do 2nd grade math, was not paying attention during class lessons, never completed homework or class work…but received a level 3 on the math test and so was passed to the 4th grade. Because the test is the determining factor in promotion, that left teachers with little grounds to argue to parents and students that they needed to do better. Yes, we often told students and parents that their child was not on grade level, but when they passed the test, they still went on to the next grade.

Now the scores for many students have dropped. The NYC Department of Education has not taken any responsibility for the fact that many students and parents thought they were doing fine in school, but in reality, they are not. Where can a parent and student take out their anger? Many schools and teachers are worried that when families find out that their child’s supposed success was a lie, that they will blame the schools and teachers.

Many parents and students do not even know that the math and reading scores have dropped, because the announcement was made over the summer. The DOE told schools to give them out in the beginning of the school year, but most have not. In the past, the DOE gave schools the printed score reports to distribute, but this year each individual school must print them out from online. This is time consuming as well as costly. School budgets have been greatly reduced and there are not many “out of classroom” positions left to do the extra work.

And once families have received the reports, what can we tell them? Your child has not been achieving on grade level for years, but there is nothing extra we do for you because our budget has been cut? There are no after school programs or intervention teachers to help. Class sizes have gone up, so the classroom teacher will have less time to work with your child. Sorry. In my school, we have about 600 students and this year, we found out that an additional 100 of them do not meet state standards and need stronger academic supports. But budget cuts over the past few years have forced the elimination of the reading and math coaches and the intervention teacher who would lead that work.

Teachers would welcome tests that more accurately access student learning. However, without the time, smaller classes, and resources to provide the needed services and a rich hands-on, experiential based curriculum, there will just be more and more test prep to get students to pass the new tests. Without a different educational strategy from the top, the “new” tests will just be used to close more schools, instead of being used to provide more help to schools with large numbers of struggling students.

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