"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Bloomberg/Klein Bring Standardized Testing to 5 Year Olds

The Bloomberg administration, which has made accountability the watchword of its overhaul of public education, is asking elementary school principals across the city to give standardized tests in English and math to children as young as kindergartners.

In an e-mail message sent on Monday evening, the Education Department’s chief accountability officer, James S. Liebman, urged principals to join a yearlong pilot program with five testing options for kindergarten through second grade, including timed paper-and-pencil assessments in which students record answers in booklets for up to 90 minutes, as well as ones in which teachers record observations of individual students on Palm Pilots.

Mr. Liebman, the architect of the city’s much-debated program of assigning schools letter grades of A through F, said in his message that because New York — like most of the country — now begins formal testing in third grade, the system does “not give schools credit for this foundational work or provide you with the means to evaluate the effectiveness of your K-2 programs.”

The pilot program, which will cost $400,000 and was not publicly announced, is already inciting outrage among some educators and advocates who worry that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s efforts to overhaul the school system have been overly focused on standardized testing.

While the federal No Child Left Behind law has required schools nationwide to administer tests starting in the third grade since 2002, Mr. Bloomberg has gone further, using test scores to determine school grades as well as bonuses for teachers and principals. The administration has also expressed interest in using test scores to determine teacher tenure, an idea that is being blocked by legislators in Albany.

Throughout the city and across the nation, teachers and parents have protested the increasing time spent on testing — and test preparation — particularly in elementary grades, where critics say that development of children’s creativity has suffered. Some experts question the effectiveness of such assessments for very young children, where lessons about sharing and socialization are sometimes considered as important as facts and figures.

“It sounds like a downward extension of whatever’s good, but also what’s bad about standardized testing in the higher grades, with more risk because we know that standardized testing isn’t appropriate at those ages,” said Lorrie Shepard, dean of the School of Education at the University of Colorado at Boulder. “Now they’re venturing into territory where many more people say that the negative will far outweigh any positive.” . . .

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