A complaint from Bed Stuy: Not enough access to test system

Here’s an unusual complaint from a Bedford Stuyvesant elementary school, about the city’s online testing system called Acuity. Acuity gives tests to students throughout the year and lets teachers and parents monitor how they do — what subjects the children are doing well in and which they aren’t.

Usually, critics complain that Acuity, which the Department of Education has purchased from the CTB McGraw Hill company, is a waste of money that encourages children to be over-tested.

But the complaint in Bed-Stuy, from Lisa North, a literacy coach at P.S. 3, is that Acuity isn’t available enough. North’s argument is that since the statewide English exam is scheduled for next month, the holiday break should be a natural time for parents to help students prepare for the test, which can determine whether a child is promoted to the next grade. But North says family prep time will be hampered because Acuity is scheduled to shut down over the holidays, from December 28th to January 4th.

“I don’t know why the system is set up for the kids to be able to practice at home, and then it’s not going to be possible,” North told me.

She added that she doesn’t love Acuity — she says its assessments aren’t perfect indicators of what students really know — but she said it’s a useful way to prepare students for statewide standardized tests.

A spokesman for the Department of Education, Andrew Jacob, acknowledged that the dark period is inconvenient. But he said that CTB McGraw Hill has to do regular maintenance on the program, and the city doesn’t have control over when that happens, especially since it’s not the company’s only client. But the DOE has won some gains, Jacob said, by virtue of being one of Acuity’s largest customers. “They used to actually take it down for two weeks,” Jacob said. “We worked with them to get it down to one week.”