Studying ancient China, the third-graders at my son's school made lanterns, clay plates and terra cotta masks. They learned how to write Chinese calligraphy. They wove silks.
My son, Ivan, and his team made a papier-mâché model of the Great Wall as viewed from space. The kids displayed their works in a breathtaking "China Museum" for parents and younger children.
Teachers at Ivan's school -- PS 146, the Brooklyn New School -- have warned in a letter to parents that projects like the China Museum are imperiled. That, they say, is because under Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposed teacher evaluation system, 50% of a teacher's rating would be based on test scores. Teachers rated ineffective two years in a row can be fired.
Teachers at PS 146 wrote, "And that is why we might feel forced to do test prep . . . even though we know teaching to the test is bad teaching."
Cuomo is moving us in the wrong direction. Standardized tests loom too large in our education system, and their role in teacher evaluations should be little or nothing.
This is one of the reasons my husband and I are refusing to have Ivan take the state English language arts and math tests this year. The only way to stop the escalation of failed testing policies is for families to refuse to participate.
Some parents may welcome tests, desperate for some accountability. But the testing system doesn't provide that. Why? Because if kids don't show "improvement" from year to year -- even if that's because they do well every year -- their teachers are deemed ineffective. If that sounds Kafkaesque, it is.
Accountability is walking into your child's school and having him or her show you what the Great Wall of China looks like from space.
Janine Sopp of Change the Stakes, a NYC group concerned about the impact of high-stakes testing on students, says I'm not alone. Cuomo's proposal is motivating parents statewide. She said that compared with this time last year, her group is hearing from more parents who are considering opting children out of the April tests. "A lot of parents are asking questions much earlier," she said.
That's good news. I hope the momentum continues.
Liza Featherstone lives and writes in Clinton Hill.