It’s a scary world we live in where 10 and 11 year olds wake up crying from a nightmare about failing a test or forgetting to bubble in an answer key. A world where after-school activities are no longer simply sports but intense study sessions filled with math and English lessons — test drills that are accompanied by yoga sessions and breathing exercises.
This is exactly what is occurring in the New York public school system. The state has chosen to align its new tests with Common Core Standards, which are uniform academic guidelines being adopted by various states and pushed forward by the Obama administration. These new tests have a greater focus on critical thinking skills, abstract reasoning, math and reading. This would have been great if the schools had been ready to adopt the tests.
Although $125 million has already been spent on the Common Core teacher-training sessions and Common Core leaders, public schools in New York City have yet to adapt their curricula to the new standards. In fact, much of the material that is presented to students on tests has not been taught yet. How can any fruitful and meaningful results arise from these tests if the students are unaware of the material presented to them?
In defense of the new tests and their implementation at this time, Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the State Board of Regents, says that most New York high school graduates are unprepared for college-level work, and that the state could not wait any longer. Certainly, it makes sense for New York and other states to move toward a more rigorous academic curriculum and testing measures for their students. It is a crucial problem that students who graduate from high school in New York still feel unprepared when they reach college. However, it is nonsensical to implement tests that are more rigorous than the current curriculum. The two must converge, not diverge. Until they become aligned, there is little hope that students will perform well on these tests.
A subsequent issue is the significance of the score, not only to administrators but also to students. The scores that students receive on these tests could determine where they go to middle or high school in 2014. Students are stressed, and rightfully so, about their scores and, ultimately, their futures. As a result, parents are now asking principals to postpone science fairs because they add too much additional pressure to their childrens’ lives. This situation cannot be healthy.
At the end of the day, it is important to take a step back and consider why all of these changes are occurring. Undoubtedly, students are supposed to benefit, but they are missing out on science fairs because they are spending weekends at study sessions and doing yoga to relax. There is something terribly wrong with this situation. The state needs to think long and hard about how they can benefit their children in the long run without hurting them in the short run. Right now they are doing the exact opposite.
A version of this article appeared in the Apr. 23 print edition. Brittany Sherman is a staff columnist. Email her at [email protected]