September 2010 Issue
August 22, 2010

Educators' Concern: Don't let history become history

Source: NYSUT United

When the Regents in June eliminated fifth- and eighth-grade statewide social studies tests for the 2010-11 school year to close a deficit, some students might have cheered — but not social studies teachers, many of whom believe the move is a big mistake.

Eliminating the tests will save $800,000 for the cash- strapped student-testing program, which was facing an $11.5 million deficit.

"We recognize the seriousness of the state deficit, but this is no time to cut funding for the state's assessment system," said NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira. "This is a time to improve the system and create better assessments to guide instruction."

When the State Education Department convened stakeholders to discuss possible cuts to the state assessment program, NYSUT refused to prioritize which tests could be eliminated.

"While some teachers may be happy to get rid of a high-stakes exam, I worry about the long-term ramifications," said Edgemont fifth-grade social studies teacher Paul Solomon. "I'm afraid social studies will not be seen as important as ELA and math ... it will get stepchild treatment. In this age, we need more study of global issues, not less."

Solomon, who is a member of NYSUT's Subject Area Committee for Social Studies, said this will mean the first statewide social studies exam will be the high-stakes Regents in high school. The 10th grade Global History Exam — required for a Regents diploma — is one of the most challenging exams for students.

"If social studies gets short shrift in elementary and middle school, children won't have the background to approach the high school exams," Solomon said.

Early preparation for DBQs — document- based questions needed for the Regents Exams — will likely fall by the wayside in time-crunched elementary and middle-level instruction if the fifth- and eighth-grade tests are no longer given.

The Regents' move has been blasted by Hofstra social studies educator Alan Singer and by Gloria Sesso and Brian Dowd, co-presidents of the Long Island Council for the Social Studies.

"Across the nation, social studies as a common core subject of the early grades has lost its identity," Sesso and Dowd wrote on The Huffington Post. "It has been absorbed in the skill-and-drill emphasis of mathematics, capitalization, vocabulary and grammar. Jonah has 'swallowed the whale.' Let that not happen in New York state!"

Until now, they noted, New York's sequential testing program in social studies has been a national model.

"Eliminating the grades 5 and 8 assessments is a short-term solution to New York's economic problems … a temporary fix that would have long-term destructive consequences for the children of New York state," they wrote.

Unless more funding can be found, more state tests are slated for elimination under the Regents' deficit reduction plan.

Last month, SED announced the elimination of the eighth-grade foreign language proficiency exams and foreign language Regents exam for all languages except Spanish, French and Italian for the current school year.

That move, which will save $3.2 million, has similarly concerned foreign language teachers who worry that their programs might be considered expendable.

The Webster Central School District, for example, is taking a second look at its German program, said German teacher Christine Dunne, a member of NYSUT's subject Area Committee for Languages Other Than English.

The district's three German teachers, she said, "are not being asked to the table during the considerations to provide educated insight into this major decision."