August 18, 2010
With summer vacation nearing its end, students citywide are sitting down to finish (or begin) summer homework assignments. Some of those assignments look a lot like test prep.
A soon-to-be fifth-grader at PS 19, a dual-language school in Queens, showed me his summer homework: Nearly 100 pages of reading, writing, and math worksheets in a book called “New York Kids Learn!” The book, produced by a California company called Teacher Created Materials, resembles an extralong state math and English language arts exam.
The student said his school gave him the book, which sells for $7, back in June and told him to bring it, completed, in September. Although the book is billed as a “parent-involvement resource” in the “Parents as Partners” series, he had mostly worked alone. Asked whether he had learned anything interesting, he shrugged.
Having help might have made the work easier: Some of the assignments looked confusing, particularly for students whose first language is not English. Two sample pages are below. One asks students to pair antonyms (“responsible” is shown as the opposite of “untrustworthy”) and the other instructs students to answer questions about a map but then doesn’t actually pose any questions at all.
Summer assignments are meant to stem the “summer slide,” the documented phenomenon in which swimming pools and video games erase as much as three months of learning from the last year. Guidance from the state about summer reading assignments emphasizes that students should not receive grades based on work done without teacher supervision.