Friday, January 4

ELA exam next week; the pressure's on to score high -- and cheat

We're entering crunch time for elementary school students preparing for the state ELA exam. It's being given on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday next week, and of all of the dozen tests over the course of the year, it (along with the state math exam in March) has the highest stakes for kids and schools. Third and 5th graders need passing scores to be promoted; 4th graders' scores are used in middle school admissions. And since 85 percent of progress report grades are based on these test scores, schools have even more riding on the scores than they did in the past.

How to deal with all this pressure? Two different columnists proposed solutions in the Sun today. "Boycott the test," suggests Robert Pondiscio, who recently returned to a career in journalism after several years teaching in the South Bronx. Regular columnist Andrew Wolf doesn't think schools should play fast and loose with their test results but he fears that some will resort to cheating. He notes, "It won't take too much illicit manipulation to yield results for those who stand to benefit." I'm skeptical of Wolf's claim that the dissolution of regional offices will result in less testing oversight but not of his observation that the incentives to cheat are stronger than ever. Certainly, we're more likely to see cheating next week than a school boycott by parents who are fed up with all the testing.

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