2005-06-24 / Editorial/Opinion

A School Year Ends With More Questions Than Answers

This school year has been one of change and, if you believe the mayor and his educational experts, one of growth as well. The mayor has banked his reelection on a rise in standardized test scores and he seems to have achieved some movement upward in that direction. There are many, however, including many who work within the public school system, who question the cost of that minimal upward movement in scores. First of all, lots of time is spent in test preparation. Although the argument has been made that students are learning while they are doing test prep, we would argue that all they are learning is how to take a specific test. One of the major complaints by teachers, both new and experienced, is that there is too much time learning how to take tests. In order to teach the “Literacy Blocks” that have become the most important factor of education in New York City (in tandem with bulletin boards), some of the more traditional subjects have been pushed not only to the back burner, but also completely off the stove. Science education has been given short shrift in District 27 and throughout Region Five to allow for more English and Mathematics. In some local schools, Science is not taught at all to elementary school students and only a few periods a week to middle school students. This should be unacceptable to parents no matter what their students score on the standardized tests. Social Studies education fares even worse in District 27. Not only has Social Studies and the study of government been deleted from elementary school programs, it has been relegated to less than two hours a week in most middle schools. What kind of voters will these students be when they reach adult age? How about Geography? Some of the students have little understanding of the political subdivisions in which they live. They constantly use “up” and “down” for north and south. Some do not even know that they live in Queens or in New York City. Being able to read and do math word problems should not be the only criteria for literacy. We need informed voters and we will not get them from today’s public schools. We have been saying for years, long before the tests became the “high-stakes” gamble of today, that the tests are largely meaningless except as a way to measure a school against its past. Today, those meaningless tests are the benchmark for success and careers rise and fall on the scores. Success is based not on what a child actually learns or what he or she knows, but how well he or she scores on a virtually meaningless test. To add to the woe, there have been charges that “at-risk” students such as special education and bilingual students were kept from taking the tests this year, skewing the scores upward. In addition, all of the students who were kept back last year, and rightfully so, did not take this year’s fourth grade tests. To our mind, those factors skewed the scores upward simply so that the mayor could gain some political favor. What’s coming next year? Your guess is as good as ours, but in the middle of a political year when education has become the seminal issue, anything is likely to happen and probably will.

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