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Editorial: Tests fail students?

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A quiet revolution began in Scarsdale last week. Parents, lots of them, asked their children to boycott a standardized science exam. Out of 290 students in the Scarsdale Middle School, 195 did not take the statewide test.

The parents argued that their children are spending too much time preparing for standardized tests and too little time learning. For the state officials who have come to equate test scores with knowledge, this protest must have been a shock.

We are sympathetic with the Scarsdale parents. We have seen as early as the fourth grade, teachers who spent more than two-thirds of their class time preparing their students for standardized tests. This cannot be confused with learning. We all know what it feels like to cram for an exam. Students fill their heads with facts that they willingly forget the day after the test.

The objective of the science teacher in middle school should be teaching the student to think and, hopefully, getting the student excited about science. In an age when most kids have access to the Internet, a new world of interactive learning possibilities has opened. This should be the most exciting time to teach young minds. Sadly, the mad rush to standardized testing has stifled the creativity of the student and teacher.

Although the problem is obvious, the solutions are not. The standardized testing came about in part as a reaction to criticism that in New York state, and especially in New York City, students were graduating from high school without the basic academic skills needed to get a job or even to fill out an application. The standardized testing was introduced as a way of increasing accountability.

The Scarsdale parents would like to see their children evaluated by more subjective standards that include reports, creativity and science projects. The problem with this is that using subjective measures it is nearly impossible to measure one school against another.

The answer lies somewhere in the middle. The state must de-emphasize standardized testing while encouraging more creative learning. Principals must make certain that real learning is not set aside in favor of teaching solely for test results. At the same time, the state must make certain that every student grasps the basics in each subject.

Perhaps the best thing that can come from the Scarsdale revolt is that state officials will learn not to take parents for granted. On every level – and this is as true in southeast Queens as it is anywhere else – parents are at best patronized. No one seriously considers getting feedback from parents on curriculum or the running of our schools. Parent Teacher Associations do little more than read last month’s minutes and run bake sales. The Scarsdale parents have sounded a warning. They didn’t keep their children home because they wanted them to do less. They want their kids to get more out of school than good grades.

Late again

The state budget is now 30 days late and counting. This isn’t a big story on the evening news because it isn’t news. It happens every year. The threat of withholding pay until the budget is passed has not shaken the lethargic do-nothings who are content to return to their districts while the leaders of both houses fight it out.

Meanwhile, the uncertainty throws nonprofit organizations that depend on state dollars into chaos. This is no way to run one of the greatest states in the nation. Shame on all of those who get paid to accomplish so very little in Albany.

Posted 7:06 pm, October 10, 2011
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