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Commenters in a Silly Tizzy Over Testing Topic Ban

Thursday, March 29, 2012 - 08:29 AM

With all that there is to be outraged about when it comes to public education and the fate of American children, the Internet is having a silly fit about a clause in a request for proposals sent out by the New York City Department of Education, listing 50 topics it wants the companies that make student tests to avoid.

The New York Post reported earlier this week that the city has submitted a list of subject areas from which it wants to protect students. Among them: space creatures, vermin, dinosaurs, birthdays.

According to The Associated Press:

The Department of Education included the list in a recently issued request for proposals to create the tests that would be used to measure student progress in math, science, literacy and social studies.

In creating the questions, the companies are asked to stay away from subjects for reasons including that they "could evoke unpleasant emotions in the students that might hamper their ability to take the remainder of the test in the optimal frame of mind" or "will appear biased against (or toward) some group of people." Or even because "the topic has been 'done to death' in standardized tests or textbooks and is thus overly familiar and/or boring to students."

Some of the other subjects on the list, first reported by the New York Post, include abuse, terrorism, holidays and Halloween.

Bloggers and others are working themselves up to a frenzy about the words -- which are not banned, but merely suggested topics to avoid, primarily so that the companies don't fill the tests with references that might be unfamiliar or carry negative connotations with city children. You can follow the chatter on Twitter at #bannedinNewYork.

Most of the critics are choosing to ignore the explanation from the Education Department, as reported by The Associated Press:

"There is no ban on any topic in our tests or curriculum," spokeswoman Deidrea Miller said in a statement. "This is standard language that has been used by test publishers for many years and is meant to ensure that tests contain no possible bias or distractions for students."

And they are even choosing to ignore Diane Ravitch, the education historian, writer and frequent critic of the New York City Education Department. As Ms. Ravitch told The A.P.:

"This is something that testing companies have been doing for a long time," she said.

Ravitch said the list of subjects to avoid comes from topics someone somewhere around the country, not necessarily in New York, may have objected to. She said, "Nobody in New York City is likely to object to any of these things."

With so many real issues to debate and discuss in education -- teacher quality, class sizes, competitive testing, college readiness, to name just a few -- it's difficult to take this seriously.

Enough.

In other news this Thursday, good news for the city Department of Education has come out of the settlement of the Brooke Astor estate: $30 million will go toward the creation of a Brooke Astor Fund for New York City Education, The New York Times reports.

And here's some of what is happening in individual schools:

In January, Amisha Padnani wrote about how Public School 41 New Dorp in Staten Island was focusing on college, trying to get students to aim at going to college from their earliest years. This week the school reported that it had taken students for a visit to the College of Staten Island. As they commented on Ms. Padnani's article:

Today P.S. 41 students expanded their knowledge by going to college. Here's what First Grade students had to say... I can't wait to go to college... It was great to talk to professors and college students... I want more knowledge... The people we met at CSI care about us and they are cool! Principal Feldman extends her appreciation to Holly Block, Emmanuel Esperance and the staff at the College of Staten Island for making this such a meaningful experience for our students. She also thanks you, our community partners, for their support in making it possible to take another step forward in bringing College and Career Readiness to life for P.S. 41 students.

Congratulations to the Francis Lewis High School Raider Teams for just about sweeping the Commanders Cup on Saturday. The cup, a competition for New York City and Long Island ROTC teams, tested endurance and strength. The Raider Teams report: "Both the male and female A team took first place over all and both the male and female B team too second place over all."

And the Daily News reports that Beis Rivkah High School in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, an all-girls Jewish school, has barred students from using Facebook and fined 33 of them $100 for using the site.

Here are some of the events going on in schools on Thursday:

A court hearing on the fate of the Peninsula Preparatory Academy Charter School in Far Rockaway, Queens, has been postponed until next month. Parents and others are trying to block the city's attempt to shut down the C-graded school.

The Youth Business Summit has its Partners' Breakfast and Trade Show. Some 2,500 students and guests from New York City, across the country and around the world are expected to be at the event, which "showcases students' skills and diverse talents in entrepreneurship, communications and global business."

Teachers College is wrapping up its symposium on testing -- “Educational Assessment, Accountability, and Equity: Conversations on Validity Around the World” -- with an interesting panel from 3:45 to 6 p.m. at the Joyce Cowin Conference Center at 120th Street and Broadway, Manhattan. The panelists include David Steiner, the former state education commissioner; Leo Casey of the United Federation of Teachers; and Nick Lemann, the dean of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

According to a news release: "This panel will address the controversial decision of The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times to publish rankings of local teachers by name, based on their students' test scores." You can find more information here.

And at 7 p.m., Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott receives an award at the YMCA of Jamaica’s 85th Anniversary Gala at the Terrace on the Park in Queens.

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