As a product of New York City schools, I’ve dealt with the good and bad that comes with attending public school in the nation’s largest education system. One of the best things about going to public school in Queens, for example, is a diverse student body.
I met kids from many different backgrounds and got to experience all of their cultures. But one of the biggest faults that I’ve encountered is the emphasis placed on standardized testing.
This is something that New York City Comptroller William Thompson, the democratic candidate for mayor, has been criticizing Mayor Mike Bloomberg for as Election Day draws near. In 2002, Bloomberg was able to gain mayoral control of the New York City Department of Education. That same year, Congress passed George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), which states that students in all states must pass standardized tests in English and math in order to be promoted to the next grade. The amount of federal funding a school receives also depends on how well students fair on these exams.
During a debate held between the two candidates last week, Thompson outlined the downside of a standardized test-centered curriculum: “…Our children are taught to take tests, but they’re not learning critical thinking, comprehension and the ability to be able to compete on a global economy,” he stated.
Bloomberg countered that by saying, “We give them the same tests that a potential employer will give them and if the test is ‘can you read,’ the answer is that we should be giving that test and the good news is, our kids are doing better on that by that standard all the time.”
Since so much emphasis is placed on reading and math, a lot of the art and music programs in New York City public schools have been cut. When I was younger, I used to love these classes because they broke up the monotony of the day. I even learned how to read music in third grade, something that is actually supposed to help students in math. New York City is also a major cultural center for the arts; why deny students the opportunity to experience all the city has to offer?
In New York State high schools, students must pass numerous Regents exams with a score of 65 or higher every year to graduate from high school. Because students must pass these tests in order to graduate, many teachers only teach information that is going to be on the test because of the pressure placed on them for their students to pass. I even had a few experiences in high school where, if a teacher said a piece of information wouldn’t be on a Regents exam (or on a midterm or a final), students would actually put their pens down and not take notes on it.
But the scoring on the Regents exams is skewed. On the June 2009 Algebra Regents Exam, students who got a raw score of 30 (meaning they answered 30 out of the 87 total questions correctly) received a grade of 65 percent, even though they only got 34 percent of the questions correct. So students can still pass these exams without making significant academic progress.
This is not the way to successfully prepare students for college. While I have had a few classes at St. John’s (mostly core classes) where I’ve had multiple choice exams and I could get away with memorizing information and then forgetting it, this has not been the case for the majority of my classes here. As an English major, I do need that ability to think critically. But for students who are continually taught to take tests, college is going to be quite the challenge for them.
While each of these two mayoral candidates seem to care about education, one thing is certain: things need to change in order for significant progress to be made and for students to get the quality education they deserve.