The sharp decline in 2013 math and reading test results for New York City schools has been described by the Department of Education and Mayor Bloomberg as a catalyst that will inspire better school and student performance.
Queens parents, however, are far less enthusiastic. All the parents interviewed are in favor of better schools and higher standards, each with a personal list of desires. But there is no general buy-in to the idea that this year’s low scores will help or even that the Common Core [math and English language arts curriculum used for the tests in grades 3 through 8] and the emphasis on standardized testing is the kind of “higher standards” they are looking for.
“The standards are making things worse,” said Nicole Atostini, a Little Neck parent who pulled her child out of a city universal prekindergarten class this past school year. “I think that if they were a little more involved in the learning process, the kids would do a lot better.”
Atostini observed that while some children began pre-K without being able to write their own names, others were able to write simple words and sentences. She expected each child would be brought to a new level.
Instead, teachers told her that the standards call for pre-K to be a year of play, not academics, and so they stringently avoided correcting or guiding children when they made errors and did not teach handwriting, reading or writing. Given that kindergarten now requires children to make use of those skills, she’s wondering when and how they will be acquired.
“You go from playing all day long to sitting down with the books in kindergarten,” she said. “And if you don’t learn anything in between, how does that transfer?”
As a result, the parents in Atostini’s neighborhood, who thought their neighborhood had good schools, are instead paying for pre-K tutors to teach what their children will need for kindergarten, she said. The recent test results confirmed for her the decision she made to pull her child out of the city program and go with a private tutor.
A few parents seem to be projecting their wish lists onto the tests and the Common Core, with one hoping the pressure on schools to perform better would result in more individual attention to each child. That may not happen, as increased class size has often been promoted by such Common Core supporters as Mayor Bloomberg as both necessary and possibly even desirable.
One Forest Hills parent of a young child who has yet to enter the school system sees the test results as a political rather than an educational situation.
“Moreover, I feel like the test scores are being used to scare us into accepting Mayor Bloomberg’s reform agenda,” he said. “I think the new tests are just an example of moving the goalposts. They made the test harder and fewer people passed.”
“Why exactly is this a surprise to anyone?” asked the father, who did not want to be identified because his wife is a teacher. She, however, is not a teacher in a grade that currently has standardized tests.
Several private-school parents saw the tests as confirmation of some of their reasons for staying out of the public school system. But one wished her private school placed more emphasis on standards and testing, albeit not necessarily the current state tests. “This is too much. But having no standards is not good, either,” she said.
And one parent remarked that for families, the most important news will be their own child’s test score.