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20 Brooklyn schools to pilot new assessment tests

October 23, 2019 Meaghan McGoldrick
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Twenty schools in Brooklyn will roll out new tests for third and sixth graders that the city will use to measure school performance and gauge where more resources are needed, according to the city’s Department of Education.

The 20 schools are part of a group of 76 public elementary and middle schools citywide, considered low-performing by the state, that will now administer 45-minute, computer-based reading and math exams for the two grades, Chalkbeat reported Monday. But they’re not the kind of standardized tests to which most kids are accustomed.

The assessments, given to third and sixth graders three times per year (fall, winter and spring), will serve more as an evaluation of the curriculum itself than of a student’s record, a DOE spokesperson told the Brooklyn Eagle.

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Still, the proposal has already prompted criticism from teachers, parents and politicians who oppose over-testing.

“These 76 schools are likely highly segregated, w/ a high proportion of kids with disabilities, English language learners and homeless students. Some of the “lowest performing” schools in NYC have 20% or kids who are homeless. Testing will not help these children,” one teacher tweeted in response to Chalkbeat’s article.

“Imposing more testing on already struggling schools is widening a gap we never talk about— who gets to enjoy school? Right now we have a system where school can be fun & fulfilling for white, privileged kids but kids of color are relegated to test prep all day,” she went on. “More tests for struggling schools will just widen that gap.”

A DOE spokesperson maintained that the low stakes and quick turnaround of the questionnaires more closely resemble a start-of-class pop-quiz.

Results of the exams will be available to teachers within 24 hours, the agency said — as opposed to the results of state tests, which typically do not come in until after the school year ends. The turnaround is meant to give educators the opportunity to better engage certain students, increase enrichment for others and change course, if needed.

Superintendents and other high-level administrators can further use the data to direct extra coaching or other resources to schools that need it, officials said.

Andre Spencer, executive superintendent of southern Queens, called the new tests a “common-sense approach” to gauging students’ needs.

“We have high expectations for our students, and we are committed to constantly analyzing and strengthening the instruction and curriculum in all our schools,” Spencer said in a statement. “Periodic assessments allow us to measure student progress and determine both where we can provide additional support and enrichment.”

Councilmember Mark Treyger, a former educator who chairs the City Council’s Committee on Education, told the Eagle that he’s had a “host of questions” about the new assessments since they were first unveiled at his own oversight hearing on high-stakes testing. There, he said, a rep for the DOE confirmed that the assessments can be cited in teacher evaluation reports.

“I don’t think you have to spend billions of dollars to get information that you should already have,” Treyger said, questioning whether or not the DOE’s new executive superintendents — which, Treyger asserted, were put in place to determine specific school and district needs — are doing what they were originally intended to do.

If you just pick up a phone and call a teacher, or e-mail a principal and ask, ‘What do you need?’ I think you’ll hear that they need more guidance counselors, more social workers, more psychologists and more funding to hire staff and reduce class size. None of that is going to come out of these new assessments,” Treyger said.

He also worries that the spring assessment will coincide with when students are to be prepping for their actual state exams. “Students and teachers are already under enough pressure that time of year,” he said.

According to the DOE, the new tests are NWEA MAP Growth Assessments — an assessment program one third of the pilot participants had already chosen to utilize this school year. Each individual assessment is adaptive (though available in just two languages — English and Spanish — according to Treyger) and adjusts the difficulty of questions throughout based on the student’s responses, an agency spokesperson said.

“Teachers are always looking for ways to tailor lessons and enrich instruction based on what their students already do or do not know. Periodic assessments are a commonly used tool that give school leaders at every level an inside look into how our students are learning so we can individualize and strengthen the curriculum accordingly,” said Karen Watts, executive superintendent of northern Brooklyn. “Using NWEA MAP consistently across these schools will give us a valuable apples-to-apples comparison that we’ve never had before.”

Still, Treyger maintains that he and others would prefer the DOE find another way to assess its students.

“More time testing is less time learning,” he said.

Update (4:05 p.m.): The language of the first sentence has been updated.

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