Archive for April 14th, 2006

14th April
2006

First Published in The New York Sun , April 14, 2006

By Andrew Wolf

Earlier this week, Chancellor Klein unveiled a new system of accountability for schools, the first “reform” of the existing reform effort in our public education system. I have a particular interest in one aspect of the chancellor’s plan, the use of “value added” testing that measures increases or decreases in the performance of individual students. Schools can then be evaluated by how successful they are in moving children ahead. Current testing measures the performance of a particular grade against last year’s numbers. Since we are dealing with different children taking different tests, this data is not as useful. Last year’s test results marked a low point. Inflated scores raised questions over testing procedures. Most responsibility for the debacle can be laid at the feet of the State Education Department, seeking to avoid sanctions under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Such kindnesses make victims of children.The first step in helping a student is an honest assessment of academic shortcomings. Of all the ideas I have advanced on education topics in this space, “value added testing” is among the few that have resonated with the chancellor. I first wrote about this in October 2002, shortly after Mr. Klein assumed his post. For quite some time, he has been talking about this, so I’m glad to see he has come around. He is right conceptually, but his proposed implementation raises concerns. The problem is that Mr. Klein has no authority to supplant the existing state testing structure. This means additional rounds of city-administered tests on top of the already onerous state schedule. Parents are getting antsy over the huge chunk of their children’s classroom time taken up by test-related activities. Once the details emerge of Mr. Klein’s plan, expect an uproar by parents, led by the anti-testing lobby.

Ironically, a key figure in Mr. Klein’s own reform effort, Eric Nadelstern, who directs the expanding “Autonomy Zone,” is an icon of the movement against standardized testing. In a letter to the New York Times, Mr. Nadelstern once wrote, “Replacing the joy of learning with test anxiety simply hastens the premature end of childhood.” As principal of the International School in Queens, one of the first to be granted a state charter, Mr. Nadelstern led the school back into the public school system, because as a charter, the law requires standardized testing. Scandalously, this school, and a handful of others are still exempt from testing thanks to state educrats and legislators. (more…)