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Assemblyman Weprin: Testing teaches wrong lessons

Has he ever spent time with any five-year-olds?” said one parent at yesterday’s demonstration against testing, refering to Chancellor Klein’s plan to test children in kindergarten through second grade. Schools piloting the plan can choose among several testing options, including assessments based on teacher observations and written tests of up to 90 minutes. Parents and community leaders questioned the developmental appropriateness of such tests, and expressed concern that schools are too focused on testing and test preparation, Edwize reports.

State Assemblyman Mark Weprin spoke at the rally, saying that his 8-year-old son has learned some startling lessons about tests:

Recently his son told him confidently that if he ran out of time on a test he’d just check off the C answers on all the rest of the questions. Why? Weprin asked. Statistically C is most often the right answer, the child told his dad. I know what millions of other parents know, Weprin said. We are spending too much time on testing and test prep. And it’s not just teaching to the test. I mean cheating.

And it’s not just children who learn to game the tests. One New York City teacher recently provided Paul Tough with a firsthand account of the dangers of relying too much on tests for accountability. His or her students seemed to expect help when they got stuck during a standardized test. Here’s what they said after the test:

Every single one of them had received help on state standardized tests in their old school. For some of them, the teacher would explain the questions when they didn’t understand something. Several students had teachers give them the correct answer. One of my students saw a teacher sit down with another student’s test, erase all of his answers, and write all new ones in.

The Sun reported in June that some principals were pressuring teachers to “guide” students to the right answers during testing.

[Students] said that teachers would look over their shoulders and instruct them to try again and again until they got answers right. They’d be like, ‘Is that the right answer?’ — until they make sure it’s right, a sixth-grader said.

Tough concluded that while attention must be paid to perverse incentives created when tests are high-stakes for teachers and administrators, nevertheless  “accountability measures are crucial, and … a well-run school system can find ways to all but eliminate cheating.”