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The Test-Prep Dilemma

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Many struggling students in high schools throughout New Jersey must take test-prep classes in place of electives like music or art, according to The Record.

With all students required in the state to pass the High School Proficiency Assessment in order to graduate, those deemed at risk of failing must often enroll—sometimes semester after semester—in intensive review courses that use workbooks supplied by testing companies and instruct them in test-taking strategies.

While critics of standardized testing decry the trend as yet another example of curriculum narrowing, educators in New Jersey appear to have more mixed feelings.

"It's all about the tests—it's unfortunate, but that's the way it is," said Joseph Mastropietro, a math supervisor in the Hasbrouck Heights district. "The key is we want them to graduate from high school and move on to college."

Mastropietro added that the separate courses have the benefit of allowing teachers in regular core courses to limit the amount of time they have to spend on test preparation.

Others noted that the testing regimen has improved schools' ability to ensure that all kids are at an acceptable skill level before they move on. The focus on tests has "made everyone's job a little more difficult, but I think the kids have these essential skills now, for the most part," said Elmwood Park schools Superintendent Joseph Caspulla.

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Test preparation courses within a school curriculum, absent any content in the same course, is the most cynical, condescending, and nearly immoral kind of education I can imagine. I understand that test scores are an unfortunate fact of life for students right now, and I don't propose that we ignore that. But focusing on test taking skills for their own sake is not even really teaching - it's training. It imposes limits on what students are expected to think and do, and implies that the test has some inherent value to the student - which, of course, it doesn't. When students -choose- to take those classes, in addition to rather than in place of regular curriculum, my criticism might be somewhat tempered.

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