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Schools branded as ‘Test-prep factories’

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Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum is renewing her fight against the city Department of Education’s emphasis on standardized testing and winning the support of frustrated parents. Calling public schools “test-prep factories,” Gotbaum said, “Parents and educators are for standards but they are against excessive testing at the expense of education programs like art, history and geography.” Brooklyn parents also asserted that public schools are spending so much time “teaching for the test” that they’re unable to focus on other subjects like art and music. “There’s a place for testing. Unfortunately, it seems that that is now becoming the only way of evaluating students,” explained Christopher Spinelli, president of District 22’s Community Education Council (CEC). “We just went through the ELAs [English Language Arts exams] this week and now most schools are going to shut down English Language Arts and ramp up math,” Spinelli continued. “That’s not a way to learn.” Gotbaum has taken issue with the number of tests students take a year. In some grades, 12 tests are taken each year, the majority of which are periodic assessment exams the DOE administers to see if students are mastering the curriculum. A spokesperson for the DOE said the assessment exams, which are given five times a year in reading and math, allow teachers to determine which topics students require more work in and how to tailor instruction to suit their needs. “The results of these periodic assessments within a few days of giving them are online for teachers to look at,” Andrew Jacob explained. “You can do that sort of analysis that would take a long, long time to do by hand on your own.” Assessment exams do not play a role in students’ grades but are factored into schools’ annual report cards, called progress reports. Jacob said there is no department policy preventing schools from “teaching for the test” by focusing on test preparation, but noted that schools Chancellor Joel Klein has discouraged the practice. “I think everyone would agree that’s not engaging instruction for the students,” Jacob said. “The ELA test is a reading test. No amount of learning how to bubble in bubble sheets is going to help a student pass who can’t read.” “The best preparation for the tests is engaging and effective teaching,” he continued. “If students mastered all the skills that are going to be on the test, they’re going to do well on the test.”

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