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Students wade into testing debate on a field trip to City Hall

Fourth graders from the Brooklyn Charter School stop by the City Council and catch some of an education committee hearing For one class of fourth graders, a tour of City Hall turned into a chance to add their voices to the fierce public debate over standardized testing today. Teachers from the Brooklyn Charter School scheduled the city government field trip after finding that few of their students knew much about the city elections that took place earlier this fall. But they didn't realize they were going to be walking into a City Council hearing featuring Chancellor Dennis Walcott, who was getting peppered with questions from lawmakers about how testing policies were affecting schools. Any possibility that the students would see some of the heated sparring between education officials and council members, a common sight at previous hearings, seemed dashed by the timing of the visit. The election season is over, and both Walcott and Education Committee Chair Robert Jackson are just a few weeks from leaving office, so there were no theatrics and little new information offered up in the Department of Education's testimony. The hearing framed many of the issues that have been raised more contentiously at forums, state legislative hearings and protests around the state this fall. Some of the issues, like an increased pressure to perform well and the shifting standards that define proficiency, were ones that the visiting students and teachers said they've seen and experienced first-hand. "I've been in testing grades for six years and it's definitely more pressure," said Gina Zaccaria, one of the teachers from the Bedford-Stuyvesant school. "They feel it more."