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Sun., Dec. 28
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Student tests

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Elementary and junior high school students across the state this week will be taking a battery of tests designed to measure skills and knowledge they have had little time to master. And sadly, even state education officials expect students to fall short of expectations on tests that will be used unfairly to evaluate teacher as well as student performance and the quality of education in individual schools.

In its rush to implement a Common Core curriculum adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia, New York will administer tougher language arts and math tests to third-through-eighth grade students to assess their mastery of the curriculum. Unfortunately, districts have had little time to make the transition to a new curriculum to meet the standards adopted in 2010. Many financially troubled school districts have been unable to afford new textbooks with reading materials and exercises geared to the changes.

Kentucky saw its test scores plummet when exams were realigned to Common Core standards, and the same is expected in New York. When low results are revealed, no doubt there will follow the customary fretting over New York students falling short of standards in spite of the high per pupil spending followed by the usual finger-pointing as blame is passed around.

As one teacher said, “It defies logic and common sense to align a test to a curriculum that hasn’t been fully unpacked yet.”

Schools will be judged, or misjudged, based on what may be sharp declines in test scores as will teachers now that scores are part of teacher evaluations. As a result, a teach-to-the-test mentality has developed and even been encouraged with students practicing to take the exams to artificially boost student performance. Weekend and after-school prep classes are being given in some New York City schools in a further example of how testing drives the curriculum rather than the other way around.

The anxiety has led to a backlash among parents, some of whom are keeping their children home rather than have them take the tests.

The more rigorous testing follows a national trend accelerated by the 10-year-old federal No Child Left Behind Act that rates schools based on proficiency standards that federal education officials have acknowledged are unachievable in the given time frame. Now it is being repeated in New York. The state has been ratcheting up student performance standards in recent years with stricter graduation requirements linked to the state Regents.

However, under the circumstances, the significance of the scores on the current round of testing will be qualified by the shortcomings leading to the tests.

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