I checked on the status on my niece, now a 5th grader, to see how she is doing in school. She complained of continuous headaches at night that prevented her from doing homework, playing video games, practicing her ballet, and watching television. My niece is a very active kid who is full of energy. Being lethargic and unengaged is a new development for her. After brainstorming and troubleshooting with my sister, we concluded that my niece is experiencing test anxiety. These headaches occurred at the same time her school was selected to administer field tests this October. Just after she had to take pre-tests in early October (as part of the new teacher evaluation system ratified by the Governor and State Legislature) this soon to be 10-year-old, is subject to field testing in mid-October. The upside to this situation is that she did not have any testing in art, music, and physical education because these programs have been cut in the school. Were it not for the PTA paying for a part-time physical education teacher, there would be no physical education in this New York City school.
When I ask my niece what she learns in school, she has difficulty articulating anything besides packets of literary passages and math problems she receives as part of drilling information. Learning has been reduced to repetition and low-level skills. It bothers me, as an educator, to hear my niece say that school is “boring.” However, reading through her packets of disjointed and unconnected passages, who can blame her? It is boring!
Once student achievement is quantitatively measured by performance on pre-packaged exams, student learning is reduced to the expectations of these exams. Students become adept at answering multiple-choice questions and formulaically responding to writing prompts. The skills required of thinking critically and creatively are no longer part of the educational sphere. This narrowing of the curriculum will continue in the future as the New York State Education Department (NYSED) is planning to increase the number of exams students take and make these assessments computer-based (gone will be the days of paper and pen exams).
Why is the NYSED moving in this direction? These reforms are being conducted to comply with new Race to the Top (RTTT) requirements, which require teacher accountability as measured through exams that convert into a number. A recent report (click here) by the Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents show while 18 school districts in our region received $520,000 from RTTT funds, these districts spent a total of $6.5 million to begin implementing these reforms. Once again, taxpayers are paying for an unfunded mandate.
In the meantime, students, like my niece, are casualties of these technocratic measures. Principals in New York State are reporting increased test anxiety among students, loss of subjects that allow students to think creatively, elimination and electives and extra-curricular activities, and narrowing of the curriculum.