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Sparring over how much test prep happens, and what prep means

Another snippet of Friday’s final Assembly hearing on mayoral control that’s worth highlighting is an exchange between school officials and Mark Weprin, the Assemblyman from Queens, over test prep.

Weprin has raised his concerns that the public school are doing too much test prep with Chancellor Joel Klein before. (He memorably hijacked a press conference that was supposed to be about Klein’s accomplishments.) This exchange gave school officials and Weprin a less awkward chance to duke it out. Weprin was incredulous when Eric Nadelstern, the chief schools officer, and a lineup of other officials told him that the Department of Education does not encourage test prep. “There’s an incredible amount of test prep going on. You know that, right?” he said.

When James Liebman, the chief accountability officer, told Weprin that only a tiny percentage of parents believe there is too much test prep going on in schools — about 1%, according to the department’s surveys — Weprin snapped back. “That’s unbelievably ridiculous,” he said. “You guys are either in denial, or you’re trying to pretend to be in denial. I thought it was just a given you knew how much test prep was going on.”

Officials clarified that they are in favor of testing; it just depends on which kind of testing. They said that giving diagnostic tests to assess what exactly students know and what they don’t is not test prep but a good way to help teachers educate children. “You will never find a serious educator who will say that merely teaching children how to take a test is a sufficient form of education or indeed a defensible form of education,” Cerf said. “To the extent people are being taught the content and then assessed on whether they have mastered that content by the milestone ages, that is not test prep.”