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Test Policy for 3rd Graders Is Met by More Resistance
February 11, 2004 | By ELISSA GOOTMAN | New York Times
One month after Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg announced a new policy to hold back third graders who fail citywide tests, a groundswell of opposition to the policy is starting to form.
Under the plan, about 15,000 third graders - those who score in the lowest of four tiers on a standardized test - could be held back starting next year.
But the policy is beginning to draw fierce criticism from parents and educators who say it is harsh, expensive and ultimately unhelpful. Educators point to similar efforts that have failed in the past, including one in New York in the 1980's. Parents tend to focus on the do-or-die nature of one test, saying a cold or test-day jitters could cause a child to fail.
More than 100 educators, advocates and education-policy experts have signed a letter, circulated by the nonprofit groups Advocates for Children and Class Size Matters, asking the mayor and the schools chancellor to withdraw the plan. The groups are scheduled to hold a news conference on the topic today.
A collection of parents, teachers and advocates showed up, some with posters, to deride the policy at a meeting Monday evening of the Panel for Educational Policy, successor to the city Board of Education. The delegate assembly of the United Parents Associations of New York City voted last week to oppose the plan, and its resolution is being circulated by e-mail message to PTA members around the city.
And parents brought up the proposal at a meeting of elementary school PTA leaders held on Monday by Gifford Miller, speaker of the City Council, and Eva S. Moskowitz, chairwoman of the council's Education Committee.
"Third graders, a single test, judged in that manner to me is absurd and cruel," said Carl Arnold, an executive board member of the PTA at Public School 261 in Brooklyn. His remarks drew applause from other parent leaders.
Like several parents at the meeting, Mr. Arnold said he learned of the policy only last week when he received a copy of the United Parents Associations resolution.
"Word is spreading," said Mr. Arnold, whose son, Lukas, is in the third grade. "People have called me up or e-mailed me and said, 'What's going on?' or 'I want to be active,' or 'What can I do?' Each day I meet up with another one or two people who say, 'What in the world is this?'"
In telephone interviews yesterday, Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein and Deputy Mayor Dennis M. Walcott defended the policy and said they expected it to take effect this year, assuming approval from the Panel for Educational Policy.
Mr. Klein said the policy would hold the school system accountable for students' progress and prevent children from being pushed along without understanding the material, a situation that he said lays the groundwork for failure and frustration in years to come. He and other officials pointed to initiatives like a new summer school program that would affect this year's third graders, and said other intervention programs are already in place. Postponing the policy, he said, would be "not right for our students."
"Different people have different views," he said of his critics. "I don't think this is something that you do for short-term popularity."
The letter circulated by Advocates for Children and Class Size Matters asks the mayor and chancellor at least to delay the policy until the next school year, to give third graders and their parents ample warning.
"All of the major educational research and testing organizations oppose using test results as the sole criterion for advancement or retention," the letter states. "In fact, there are few issues about which there is such a powerful consensus among the professionals in the field."
Signatures were collected from education professors and experts including T. Berry Brazelton, the child development expert, four past presidents of the American Educational Research Association and Shane Jimerson, a professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara who has conducted several studies on the effects of holding students back.
Robin Brown, president of the United Parents Associations, said her group's resolution on the matter passed unanimously.
"This thing is actually gaining momentum," she said. "You're actually hearing parents talk about this outside of school, on the way to school, on the way home. I think this is a conversation that people are actually having at their dinner tables."
The Panel for Educational Policy is not expected to vote on the plan until next month, but some parents and teachers voiced their opposition at this week's meeting.
Peter Dimock, whose daughter Ariana is a third grader at Public School 29 in Brooklyn, fought back tears as he called the policy "outrageous."
Afterwards, he explained that Ariana is bright and a good reader, but she sometimes "spaces out." Recently, she failed to complete a test in the time allotted, but correctly answered all the questions she had time to tackle.
"She doesn't realize she's being tested not for what she knows or who she is, but how fast she can perform," he said.
Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers, said she welcomed the mayor's third-grade initiative when he announced it. Yesterday, though, she criticized implementation of the plan, saying teachers had not been given enough extra resources.
|produced by Naava Katz Design|