Tuesday, March 01, 2005
The growing emphasis on high-stakes testing in city schools will not lead to better instruction, mainly because the results arrive too late in the year to be of any use in the classroom, a New York City lawmaker charged yesterday.
At a three-hour hearing on testing and assessment, City Councilwoman Eva S. Moskowitz, chairwoman of the Council`s Education Committee, said she found it troubling that under the current system, a typical general education student would be required to take 21 citywide and statewide tests, in addition to 42 diagnostic assessments, from kindergarten through 12th grade. She found fault with the multimillion-dollar price charged by the companies that make the tests. She objected to teachers` being out of the classroom for days at a time to grade the exams – and to the notion given by city education officials that such grading time counted as “professional development.”
But she seemed most dissatisfied with what she called the test scores` slow rate of return. She cited an example: Results for students in grades 3, 5, 6, and 7 who take the citywide English language arts exam in the spring at a cost of $1.2 million to the city are not available to schools until June, once the school year is over.
“You can`t give students test results after the school year, and you can`t expect teachers to change instruction without enough time,” Ms. Moskowitz said.
Ms. Moskowitz seemed frustrated at times because only two education officials, Lori Mei, the city`s senior instructional manager for testing and assessment, and her deputy, were present to answer questions and because a state education official declined her invitation, citing a prior commitment.
Ms. Mei said that schools use a number of tests during the year to tailor instruction, not just the citywide and statewide tests. And she said the formal tests are valuable in helping decide which students will be invited to summer school, and for instructional purposes in the next school year.
She also explained that under the federal education law, No Child Left Behind, both the number and importance of required tests had increased. She said that the purpose of tests is accountability, and that they help education officials identify schools that are failing their students.
But Ms. Moskowitz said she did not see a link between labeling a failing school and helping it succeed. “I`m still troubled that the burden seems squarely on the kids,” she said.
Ms. Moskowitz also pressed Ms. Mei on what the Education Department calls “low-stakes” tests, the quarterly diagnostic assessments. Those scores are not mailed home to parents, although Ms. Mei said they are available online. Ms. Moskowitz said she strongly believed those scores should be released without parents having to use the Internet.
Ms Moskowitz also took issue with the fourth- and eighth-grade statewide science tests from the 2003-4 school year, whose scores have never been sent home with students.
“I find it unbelievably offensive that you would make a kid take a test, then not give them the results,” she said.
Ms. Mei said that the results have been available to the schools in computerized form since October, and were there for any parent who asked. She said distribution was limited because of a shortage of resources.
Toward the end of the hearing, reinforcing her central point, Ms. Moskowitz told, “If we`re giving these tests and not changing educational practices, we`re spitting in the wind.”