A new pilot program testing Brooklyn’s youngest students in reading and math has renewed complaints that standardized testing is too prominent in public education.
“The research shows that standardized tests for children of such a young age are unreliable,” said Martha Foote, whose son is in first grade at P.S. 321 in Park Slope.
The city Department of Education (DOE) e-mailed details of the $400,000 pilot program to principals and asked them to participate.
According to department spokesperson Andrew Jacob, the yearlong program will be implemented in kindergarten, first and second grades and assess students’ reading and math skills several times a year. Teachers can choose from various testing options, including having students complete workbooks, read aloud, or complete computer games.
Currently, students in these grades only undergo reading evaluations. Jacob said the results of the tests will be used to determine how students are progressing throughout the school year and what areas they require additional support in.
But there are fears that those results could be exploited by schools wanting only the best and brightest in their third grade classes. That’s because third-graders are held to a strict citywide promotion policy and excessive retentions reflect poorly on schools.
“Principals will use it to beat the system. They’re gaming it and they know they’re gaming it,” said Jim Devor, whose daughter attends M.S. 51 in Park Slope.
Jacob argued that the tests themselves would play no role in influencing promotion.
“They’re going to be used to give teachers information about where [students] are struggling,” he said. “Schools might be able to use these tests to give children remedial instruction.”
“When a kid doesn’t get promoted from second to third grade, it’s probably because the teacher, in consultation with his parents, doesn’t think he’s ready for the third grade,” he continued.
At the completion of the pilot program, the DOE will analyze the results and determine whether or not to make the new testing procedures mandatory for all schools.
The principal of one local elementary school joked about the new testing program.
“The city would like to test our young, young children – our kindergarten and second grade children and beyond that in utero,” Arthur Forman, principal of P.S. 195 in Manhattan Beach, said at a meeting of a local civic organization.
Some Brooklyn parents said testing has become too much of a focus under the current DOE system run by Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
“There’s already too much testing in place,” said Jennifer Stringfellow, whose son attends a middle school in District 15, which includes Red Hook, Park Slope and Sunset Park. “The more we test, the more we teach to the test and children do not have an opportunity to enjoy the learning experience.”
“From what I hear from parents and from what I see from my own children, there’s a lot of testing and the focus of the school year is getting children past those tests and getting good results,” said Christopher Spinelli, whose son attends P.S. 207 in Marine Park. “I don’t think that’s a very productive way to learn. The focus should be on learning, not tests.”