April 4, 2022

Fred Smith: Admit it: Testing our kids has been a failure

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Writing for the New York Daily News, Fred Smith, former testing specialist for New York City public schools, points out what teachers already knew–the testing regime of the past couple of decades is a failure and it’s time to move on.

After a two-year COVID-induced hiatus, another full-fledged year of subjecting third-through-eighth grade public school kids to New York State tests begins Tuesday. This week, up to 1.2 million students, including 400,000 in New York City, will take the English Language Arts (ELA) exam. The math tests will come a few weeks later.

It’s time to end the March madness.

The program was set forth in 2001 when Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act, mandating annual English and math tests. Here we are 20 years later, still adhering to the regime without asking what we’ve gained and lost. A primary aim of NCLB was to close the test performance gap between Black and Hispanic students, on the one hand, and white and Asian-American students, on the other. This elusive goal has not been realized.

Since its inception, CTB/McGraw-Hill, NCS Pearson and Questar have received state contracts to provide the tests and their scoring, amounting to $130 million. The state comptroller’s Open Book database details the combined cost of these services.

Results have fluctuated wildly across the years, in large part because the state’s standards and grading procedures keep changing, pressure on students, teachers and principals to do well has been constant, stemming from functions and high-stakes decisions beyond the capacity of the test data to support. In 2006, 51% of students citywide were deemed to be proficient on CTB’s ELA exams. By 2009, the proficiency level had risen to 69%. The increase in math went from 57% to 82%. Observers knew gains of such magnitude were not plausible. One Board of Regents member questioned the wisdom of releasing the inflated, too-good-to-be-true results to the public.

Read the full op-ed and sad history here.

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