City on Common Core Testing

Friday, April 12, 2013

This year's state tests for grades 3-8 will reflect new Common Core standards. Shael Polakow-Suransky, New York City's Chief Academic Officer, discusses next week's testing and the concern about the change.


Shael Polakow-Suransky

Comments [36]

Amanda from Washington Heights

It would be easy to say, "my child is not stressed because I have the right approach, and his teacher is reassuring him not to worry." That might be true this year, but what happens next year when that same teacher--who is trying to stike balance--is evaluated on her students' test scores. I doubt the approach will be the same in any classroom.

Apr. 13 2013 07:15 PM

Mike Adler -- I work with postpartum parents all the time. There is nothing more annoying to other parents than a parent who thinks that they are the only ones who are parenting perfectly. I respectfully disagree with you that all the woes these days are due to electronics. Starting in second grade my son and his friends read books and discussed them with his friends and he has continued to do so. He is not yet in high school, but he has read many nonfiction books on fiction and knew what a Tokamak was before I had an invitation from one of the women in my Martial Arts class to visit her husband's plasma physics lab. He got into his top choice "screened" high school and his top choice "specialized" high school (and could have gone to any of them). Guess what, both he and I LOVE x-box games. I am not up to his skill level, but every now and again he will let me play a coop game. Portal 2 was THE BEST EVER spatial game and much more entertaining than any passive TV program. Seriously, get a grip -- many people actually can learn a few critical thinking skills from some of the electronic games and they are a great stress reliever when you are finishing up the tedious details of your doctoral dissertation. Both I and another of my colleagues would not have become PhDs without the relieving our stress by playing Lode Runner - now a Golden Oldie. In the game you had to shoot bricks and pick up bags of money -- which could be viewed as an immoral message. In actuality it was one of the better spatial puzzle games. The only game I've played so far that supersedes it is Portal 2.

Apr. 13 2013 11:18 AM

Carolita -- I've seen too many parents actually do their homework FOR their kids and so their kids never learn how to do their own work. So they really have a hard time when they go off to college and the parents are no longer doing the work for them. So you actually have children competing with adults in some of the schools because it is the adults how are doing the work.

The only time I ever sat down and helped my son with his homework was when he asked for help. That rarely happened until middle school and in middle school it usually only happened in the middle of big projects. My son, on his own, without prompting studied for the SHSAT, asked for tutoring and basically had his pick of the Specialized Schools and also did the same thing for the "screened" schools. In actuality his middle school prepared him very well for the "screened" school application process and thanks to his science teacher he had a spectacular science project -- actual original research -- to submit for his portfolio. My son's science teacher had him doing a level of experimental research that I didn't do until high school.

Apr. 13 2013 11:03 AM
Liz from Glen Cove

Here in Nassau County, this year's curriculum did not match the practice test that was made available to the schools only 2 weeks ago, right before spring break. The math packet that my 5th grade son brought home had so much unfamiliar material in it that it made him cry and proclaim himself "stupid", despite the letter from his teacher that came home with it telling the students not to worry about what they couldn't answer, and despite the calming reassurances of his parents.

Shael Polakow-Shuranks tells us to assure our kids to relax and do their best, that it doesn't matter. Meanwhile, teachers in my town, and across NY and the country have been accused of "test coaching" and "testing integrity violations". They are instructed not to point, touch a student or desk, or even clear their throats during the exams. What a calm and relaxed atmosphere for our children!

Nobody is being punished? Please.

Apr. 12 2013 02:48 PM
Chris Gordon Owen from Brooklyn NY

Listening to Shael Polakow-Shuranksy talking to Brian Lehrer raised my heart rate uncomfortably. Someone who hasn't been following the unfolding education drama would probably get a skewed impression from Mr. Polkaow-Shuranksy's calm presentation and his references to the fine goals of education. If the schools were really getting the most current curriculum, why would the tests be considered so challenging - so challenging that the DOE has predicted a 30% failure rate? If tests are intended to help develop critical thinking, why are they predominantly multiple choice questions & why don't teachers & students get the results for review? Why is it that so many educators (researchers & school teachers) complain that the tests take time AWAY from class time spent on in-depth study? Since when do educational tests make children throw up?

Apr. 12 2013 12:35 PM
marlo thomas from manhattan

Elizabeth from LIC - The test is to establish a baseline. They cannot improve curriculum until they understand what kids know--and don't know.

While I'm not a big proponent of tests, how would you evaluate "where everyone's at," as pertains to adopting new standards?

Apr. 12 2013 12:24 PM
marlo thomas from manhattan

Oh yes--heaven forbid a third grader's self-esteem get destroyed (in this caller's mind) by an evaluative test. Guess how crushed that self-esteem will be when they can't get into the "good" high schools, and go to college (if possible) unprepared!

Standards have to be raised. I know a lot of college professors who can't believe how unprepared a lot of city kids are.

Relax, helicopter parents!

Apr. 12 2013 12:19 PM

your kids need to do MORE. we are now in a global competition!!
i hear a lot of weak people whining. For shame!!

Apr. 12 2013 12:18 PM
Britt from Tuckahoe

Brian, it was a BIG mistake to have this guy on for only 15 minutes! I was on hold to talk to him. Last week at my 5th grade son's parent/teacher conference, his veteran teacher (30+) years said lots of things about the tests and curriculum (the math they are now teaching is what USED to be 7th grade, the reading segments are much more complex and used to be deemed years beyond what a 10 year old would be capable of doing, etc.). The main quotation from his teacher for me was "They are ruining our babies and there's not a thing we can do about it.". Your guest kept say "The kids won't be punished" - they are being punished DAILY!!! And nightly with the significant amounts of homework! Who is he kidding? Alison (above), I concur that we shouldn't be neurotic about it. The smart parents aren't. My husband and I have told our son (and his teacher) we DO NOT CARE HOW HE DOES ON THE TEST! We are the lowest pressure parents on the planet. But guess what? My SON cares! HE puts the pressure on himself because it is ALL they talk about at school. We haven't even TOUCHED upon the fact that there are no creative moments happening, gym only happens two days a week for 35 minutes (my son doesn't believe I had gym every day!). I just keep hearing in my head "They are ruining our babies..."

Apr. 12 2013 12:06 PM
Mike Alder from North Shore of Long Island

I appreciate both sides of this debate, but i think it misses the true underlying issue. What do our kids do when they are not in school, dealing with these new tests or playing sports?

They are most likely on a smart phone, tablet or computer playing video games. Or watching TV. Or both at the same time.

We do not have any video games in our home (much to the dismay of my 10 year old) and our TV is not connected to cable. Only to a DVD player.

Our kids play (outside with wood and dirt), READ or talk to us.

Their understanding of the world (without CNN!), love of books, and ability to express themselves verbally might just be our good luck, but I think the minimal amount of media (for young kids. I'm not talking high school) and in particular video games (smart phones and tablets were the last nail in the coffin) have allowed their minds to flourish.

This is half of the unspoken issue. I'll save my comments on the other half for when Brian talks about the value of tearhing kids to read and do math at a VERY early age.

Thanks for every show you do.

Mike Alder

Apr. 12 2013 11:53 AM
Elle from Brooklyn

PS - Brian, can you (perhaps on another show) address how many HOURS of classroom time are wasted on these tests? My son has already told me that during test week, "we probably won't be doing any work at all." Great.

Apr. 12 2013 11:52 AM
james from nyc

I agree test business big money... saying that schools are bad and privatizing them is huge money and its coming.. like cancer it's starting small and will explode on us...

Apr. 12 2013 11:52 AM
Hyacinth from Brooklyn

The Chief Academic Officer said no child will be punished because of these new exams, but in my opinion, and based on my experience with my 8 year old goddaughter, children are being punished now. She does not feel engaged and excited about school because all it is test prep, test prep, and test prep all the time. It's been test prep boot camp, and teaching by intimidation because the common core tests are the elephant in the room. Whereas, you want children to be engaged and enthusiastic about school, when they are worn down to a nub in the hopes they will be drilled to the nth degree to ace this test -- that's not teaching and learning that's called enforcement. I have worked with her for months to make this fun and not just about acing the test. Overall,I think this has been a most unfortunate experiment on children because of decades of neglect of their educational needs.

Apr. 12 2013 11:50 AM
james from nyc

standardized test are for politicians and people looking to make money of the school system. Not for the kids.. Let's stop kidding our selves... what good is a test after the fact.

we should be investing that money into our teachers through mentors for the teachers to be better teachers.

You want to test someone test the teacher not the kids, all kids are different and will test diferrent and you cant hold a teacher responsible for the kids they get into thier class.

you test the teacher, they test incompetent get them out...

Apr. 12 2013 11:49 AM
Elle from Brooklyn

Test prep is BIG BUSINESS! These companies are there to turn a profit, not to educate. There's your problem right there.

Apr. 12 2013 11:49 AM
Mollie McQuarrie from Brooklyn

My understanding is that on April 5th the DOE publicly stated that the tests do not matter at all this year because they are new; that they will not be used for advancement. Please look into that.

When I told my son that it didn't matter he was so relieved. This guy is not addressing the fact that we are asking 9 yr olds to do 7 hours of testing- more than doctors, more than lawyers. And they are talking about making testing necessary for kids as young as 5. As an educator, I don't know a single educator who thinks this kind of testing is a good idea.

Apr. 12 2013 11:48 AM
fuva from harlemworld

It absolutely will be demoralizing.
"Don't worry if he doesn't do well"? Does New York City's Chief Academic Officer understand the psychology of kids?
If it's just a diagnostic exercise, call it and treat it like a study and not a consequential exam.

Apr. 12 2013 11:47 AM
Susan from North Salem, NY

Elle, we call his teacher "Madame von Worksheet" :-)

Oh by the way, the "crisis" in this country is having non-educators in our DOE, and corporations wanting to make more money off students. Follow the money. There's the crisis. That guy was so freakin' clueless.....

Apr. 12 2013 11:47 AM

It is sad to see other subjects such as Science, and Social Study are downsized due to the common core test...

Apr. 12 2013 11:46 AM
Elle from Brooklyn

Carolita, you are also right. I have a friend who actually told me, "I don't expect the schools to educate my kid." Sad, but true. It's up to parents. And I send my kid to a Catholic school, where I actually pay tuition, expecting that he WOULD get the education he wouldn't get in public school. I've been sadly disappointed. Catholic schools have also been invaded by the testing mentality.

Apr. 12 2013 11:46 AM
Karen from NYC

It's this kind of meaningless, oppressive testing that drove us from the public school to an independent school and, when independent high school proved too expensive, to a suburb.

We should have moved to the suburb when our son started kindergarten. These arguments are frustrating, and there is no way to argue with a bureaucrat.

I know that many kids are trapped in NYC public schools, but my advice as a parent who has been there is -- if you can't or don't want for political reasons to do private, then move. Our son would haven so, so, so much better off if we had not been --we now think -- selfish and politically correct about staying in the City.

Apr. 12 2013 11:46 AM

"If You look the past 8th grade test, kids were being asked to read passages written on the 5th grade level"-(Shael P-Suransky).

That's an interesting statement, but the solution to our testing strategy should not be to test 4th graders on math skills they have not learned and will be no fully aware of till they are in 5 or 6th grade. The failure rate will be high because the kids have not been prepared. Schools, teachers, and test prep publishers have all been caught with their pants down and the kids are getting screwed! BTW,the NYTIMES is written on the fourth grade level for all readers.

"No child will be punished because the state made a harder exam"--(Suransky) How about their self-esteem and confidence level. Additionally, will middle schools look at the lower scores and think this is an outlier year to accept students based on a curve.

This is going to be an interesting testing year Royally-Screwed by bureaucrats!

Apr. 12 2013 11:45 AM

Is there ANYONE from the DOE who is not a XXXXX. He doesn't give a crap about kids. God that snarky tone is infuriating! I honestly haven't come across any DOE rep who didn't act like kids were numbers. This guy too.

Apr. 12 2013 11:45 AM
Alison from manhattan

Everyone is so neurotic about these (and other) tests! Everyone needs to relax!

Apr. 12 2013 11:45 AM
Maya from Brooklyn, New York

Grading the essay portions of state tests is a total joke. Graders are trained to scan, look for certain sentences or transition phrases, check off and move on. You can fill in the rest with total nonsense, song lyrics, whatever, and it'll go right by them. Total racket and completely ridiculous, it teaches the kids nothing except to spit out a formula. Like Susan said, no personal connection to the work, no soul.

Apr. 12 2013 11:45 AM
Elle from Brooklyn

Susan, you are so right! Enough with the flipping worksheets already!

Apr. 12 2013 11:44 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

We should re-purpose the entire educational for the object of creating WORKERS. Almost everything in the curricula should be related to the real world. For example, if you are teaching writing, give the kids a writing project so see who can right a commercial essay to sell the most jeans, cars or gaming consoles. If you are teaching math, have kids figure out how much electricity their refrigerators, computers or homes in general are using. Teach kids how to figure out the change they have to get at the supermarket by adding up the cost of the things they are buying. And so on. If teaching history, show how historical problems of the past are similar to problems of today. Relate everything to the world kids actually live in.

Apr. 12 2013 11:43 AM

what a crazy mom. i have a good guess why the kid is “wreck”!

Apr. 12 2013 11:42 AM
Elle from Brooklyn

My son is in fourth grade, and his test are coming up in a few weeks. His teacher and I are on the same page - these tests are all BS! Neither she nor I has put any pressure on my son, and he is NOT stresses about the tests because the adults around him refuse to get stressed about them. I despise the whole concept, and I believe it has been incredibly detrimental. This interview only reinforces my opinion.

Apr. 12 2013 11:42 AM
Susan from North Salem, NY

This guy obviously has not been in a classroom. My third grader has done ZERO creative work this year, ZERO projects, ZERO work that has any kind of personal connection. Worksheet after boring worksheet tailored toward the taking of one test. There is no soul in the work, he is bored out of his mind and cannot complete any of the writing prompts because HE DOES NOT CARE ABOUT THE TOPICS. Last worksheet he had to look at a picture of suffragettes in the 1910s and answer questions with text-based evidence. THERE WAS NO TEXT! It was a picture of some women and he had no context, no idea who they were and what they were about. He could only complete the assignment with my help, explaining the Suffragette movement and what was going on. Am I supposed to come in on test day and do this? It's so freakin' ridiculous and pitiful and sad.....

Apr. 12 2013 11:39 AM
elizabeth from Long Island City

What about 4th graders whose middle school placement depends on these tests?

Apr. 12 2013 11:37 AM

Wish Congress would adopt Common Core Standards for ALL our representatives. Wonder how many of Senators and House members could pass the tests we require of all graduating High School Seniors?


Apr. 12 2013 11:37 AM
elizabeth from Long Island City

He didn't answer Brian's question Why test them BEFORE rolling out the curriculum??

Apr. 12 2013 11:35 AM
paul from nyc

I just finished 3 years of grad work at City college in education, we never heard the words "common core" until AfTER graduation, what am I supposed to do now? City college and NYC dept Ed did NOT prepare any of us new teachers in this and we are now held accountable to it. WTF? I like the common core ideas but come one, most kids in public system are not even reading at grade-level as it is, now you expoect them to do higher-order work overnight by decree? A recipe for failure all-around. But of course policy makers and administrators don't get held responsible so its easy to make new demands of others. I am going to teach somehwhere else

Apr. 12 2013 11:35 AM
Elizabeth Kenney from Carroll Gardens Brooklyn (PS58)

We're being told the middle schools will be adjusting their acceptance standards accordingly. If they would have looked at 3500 applicants before, they'll still take 3500, regardless of how the scores may lower.

Apr. 12 2013 11:34 AM
carolita from NYC

The only thing that helps children do well in school is when their parents do their homework with them every single day. I've never seen kids whose parents aren't involved in their schoolwork do well. I could've done much better in school if my parents had been better at this, themselves. But they weren't actually capable once I reached a certain level. However, when they got me a tutor to help me in the subjects I was weak in (which they weren't able or willing to get good at), I improved a lot. Kids cannot get everything they need simply from the classroom at school. You want kids to do better in school? Start a program for the parents. Night school, anything, for free, for parents who want to learn what their kids are learning, so they can help their kids.
This would be a great project for those zillionaires who don't want to die rich to fund with their money. Hint.

Apr. 12 2013 11:16 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.