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I have not lost much sleep over the news that fewer city public school students, based on their test results, met state standards this year. As a parent, I care about how our children are performing in school, but I do not worry much about scores on high-stakes tests. Up or down, above or below any particular proficiency cutoff, the test scores fail to indicate what parents really care about: Is my child learning?
Instead, they are likely to reflect the rampant use of test-preparation drills that keep scores high but rob students of the opportunity for real learning. I am not participating in the hand-wringing over lower percentages of students deemed proficient because I reject the premise that high-stakes standardized tests ever provided an accurate picture of students’ performance in the first place.
Since the city Department of Education introduced its regime of high-stakes testing in city public schools, it has taken each report of test results as an opportunity to trumpet students’ purported gains. When fewer students met the standards this year, the DOE’s spin was that all is still well because the actual test scores held steady. For the DOE, it is all about test scores.
What the DOE fails to report is the high cost associated with keeping the test scores at a level they can continue to brag about. How many students do not know basic geography? How many missed out on science experiments, field trips, music, dance, art and public speaking in favor of a focus on the narrow range of material that appears on state tests?
Test preparation has crowded out a broad curriculum as time and resources consistently shift away from any subject matter that will not appear on state examinations. There is a monetary cost, too, in the form of millions spent on test-prep materials as well as on administering and then grading the exams.
Instead of taking this week’s news as another opportunity to tout illusory educational progress, the DOE should double down on enhancing the education today’s students need to succeed. Regardless of the latest test results, the real news is that schools are testing more but students are learning less.
©2010 Community Newspaper Group
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