2010-07-02 / Columnists

The Rockaway Beat

The Testing Saga Continues: Tougher Tests, But No More Social Studies
Commentary By Howard Schwach

No more teachers, no more books, no more Social Studies tests – ever.

After all, why give a test in a subject that the schools are no longer teaching in any meaningful way.

The state has announced that the annual history and civics exams given to public school students in grades 5 and 8 are set to ride into the sunset, a casualty of budget cuts and a mind-set that says only those subjects tested by the high-stakes standardized tests count.

Students in District 27 schools now take weekly, with few exceptions, 10 periods of language arts, 10 periods of mathematics, 5 periods of science and 10 periods of whatever is left over – and that means social studies, music, art, technology, foreign language and physical education. If you can’t figure out how those six subjects are taught in 10 periods a week, don’t worry. Neither can anybody else.

After all, if it doesn’t count towards No Child Left Behind, then it doesn’t count at all.

The social studies tests are not mandated by the federal bureaucracy, so let’s just do away with them. Who needs social studies anyway?

Our students do!

Last week, a Wave staffer went into a food store on Beach 116 Street. She got talking to a young woman who told the staffer that she does not live in Rockaway, but likes it here because of the ocean.

“What ocean is that,” the woman asked.

That’s why we need social studies.

We need social studies because that young lady will soon reach voting age.

It’s hard for me to understand how a person can make a reasoned vote for a political candidate without knowing something about how our government works.

They have to know the fact that there are varying levels of government – local, state, federal and that all of them are governed under a Constitution.

Many think that the president is the supreme ruler of the United States, but he is not.

There are three co-equal branches of government – Legislative, Executive and Judicial and that each has checks and balances over the others.

They will only learn that in a social studies class.

Voters have to understand now only their own personal roots, but the roots of our democracy and how it grew. They have to understand the role that immigrants played in our history – the role played by religion, by women, by minorities, by heroes and villains.

They will learn none of those things if they take social studies once or twice a week.

In fact, the state mandate is for one unit of social studies – at least four 42- minute periods a week.

Unfortunately, when the testing craze began, the State Board of Regents waived that rule for New York City. Geraldine D. Chapey and her cohorts did us no favor in allowing everything but reading and math to be swept under the rug.

In fact, learning has been swept under the rug in a race to meet federal standards and take in a few federal bucks in one of the biggest educational arm-twisting events in history.

In fact, the race to test and to use those test scores to rate and pay teachers and to garner federal money has led to another travesty — lowering the test standards to the point where they have become meaningless in any educational way.

Even law schools have learned that lesson.

Loyola Law School in California has decided to inflate its grades, tacking on 0.333 percent to every grade recorded in the past three years. The goal, the school says, is to make its students look more attractive in a competitive job market.

At least Loyola is truthful. New York City and New York State have been inflating test grades for several years now in an attempt to make it look as if Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Board of Regents have achieved wonders through their governance of the school system.

The fact is, education has suffered as test scores rise.

Not knowing that the ocean you are sitting next to is only one of the manifestations of that fact. There are millions of others.

Most are worse. How about voting for a member of the House of Representatives when you don’t know what that is or what its members do.

Most residents know who Mayor Michael Bloomberg is. Many, however, don’t really know what he can do, where his powers lie.I ran into somebody last week who was complaining that the mayor was soft on crime because of some of the state laws on the books. They didn’t realize that criminal law is a state issue, not a city issue.

Some want Congressman Anthony Weiner to get involved with changing the traffic laws without understanding that he has no control over state issues.

They should have learned about the separation of powers in a social studies class, but there are not enough periods each week in which to learn the basics of government and how to be a good citizen because the teachers are too busy with test prep. The Board of Regents is now attempting to make the state tests more difficult. The trick, however, is how the tests are scored.

Several years ago, an eighth grade student needed to get more than half of the questions right to earn a level 2 designation.

Last year, that same student would have needed about 38 percent right answers to get the same level 2.

It’s all in the testing, and testing is not education.

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