Backers, critics of high-stakes tests clash in NYC

October 7, 2013 Associated Press
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Supporters and critics of high-stakes tests for students squared off Monday at the Education Nation conference in New York City, with some criticism reserved for New York’s approach to preparing for the tests.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said standardized tests are eating up too much class time in school districts across the U.S.

“It’s essentially two weeks on testing and a month on test prep,” Weingarten said. “That’s not teaching! We have to find a better way to make sure that kids are actually meeting the mark than taking two months out of their school year to do this kind of work.”

In New York state, just 31 percent of students in grades three through eight passed the 2013 standardized tests after the state became one of the first to align its math and English tests with the rigorous Common Core standards.

The standards, which most states have adopted, are intended to intended to promote critical thinking in order to better prepare students for college and careers.

New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said New York was “ahead of the curve.”

“Did they all do well?” Walcott asked. “No. Are they going to do better moving forward? Yes. … I give New York a lot of credit for rolling it out early because otherwise we would be having this debate next year and we would have lost another generation of students.”

But Weingarten said New York’s rollout of the math and English tests was “a debacle.”

Former Louisiana Superintendent of Education Paul Pastorek said his state adopted the Common Core standards in 2010 but won’t test students on the material until 2015.

Pastorek said communities should pressure education officials to implement the harder tests quickly “because kids can’t wait for adults to get their act together.”

Pastorek added that the tests must be used to identify bad teachers.

“Some teachers, respectfully, no longer belong in the classroom,” he said. “And we need to know who they are.”

Seattle high school teacher Jesse Hagopian, a leader of an effort to boycott standardized tests there, said from the audience that testing “has inundated the public schools.”

“I know who can’t read in my class,” Hagopian said. “What I need is a smaller class size, after-school tutors, reading coaches, the things that actually improve education.”

The panel discussion at the New York Public Library in Manhattan was part of a two-day summit on education that NBC has hosted since 2010.

A survey of Brooklyn schools conducted by the United Federation of Teachers found that a vast majority of teachers had not received the proper textbooks weeks into the new school year.

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