after all that

First day of state Common Core math tests a relief, teachers say

All’s quiet on the Common Core math test front, for now.

After last week’s state reading tests drew sharp criticism, anxiety ran high as students headed into the first of three days of math testing today. But educators are saying the first day was uneventful — and possibly even easier than they expected.

“There was a little bit of a sigh of relief when they started going through the test,” David Baiz, who teaches at Global Technology Preparatory Middle School, said of his eighth-grade students. “They felt like they were capable of doing it.”

Jose Vilson, who teaches at I.S. 52 in Washington Heights, tweeted just after the exam, “My kids found the test pretty easy, and this time, I trust it.”

And a student named Jessica Lish who has tweeted her reaction to each day of the state tests so far wrote, “The first day of the math state tests was not that hard.” Last week, she said the second day of the reading tests was “confusing and hard to finish” but that the third day was “easy.”

A page set up on Reddit to collect feedback about the math test sat empty this afternoon. Its creator, the author of a blog that criticizes the state’s new math standards, told GothamSchools the page was inspired by literacy educator Lucy Calkins’ rapid accumulation of comments criticizing last week’s reading tests.

Those tests prompted teachers to complain that students were given too little time to answer all of the questions. Today, at least one complained that students had too much time. “Students completed Book 1 Math State Assessment in less than 25 min?” Cheryl Hughes, a Buffalo teacher who proctored eighth-graders today, wrote in a tweet to State Education Commissioner John King that included the hashtag “#LostLearningTime.”

Students and teachers had girded themselves for a challenging math test after months of warnings from city and state officials that the transition to new standards called the Common Core would cause scores to plummet. In math, the Common Core emphasizes greater integration of literacy, tasks that require students to work through multiple steps, and more real-world application of mathematical concepts.

But today’s tests, given to students in grades three through eight, were all multiple choice, and teachers said the questions did not all reflect the higher standards. (On Friday, students will have to provide their own answers to test questions.)

Baiz said the multiple-choice questions focused more on computation than on applying math concepts. “It’s still testing some form of knowledge, but it’s not that deeper kind of math work I was expecting from a Common Core-aligned test,” he said.

“I heard the math test was gonna be heavy with reading. First day didn’t seem too bad,” tweeted OldCoyotesAreUs, a teacher. Baiz said one question had only words and no numbers, tripping up a student who is an English language learner, but other questions required little reading.

“If you were asking me to describe it in one word, I would say it was fair. In all aspects — in terms of the content covered, in terms of the time given. I was a little surprised because I was expecting multiple standards to be assessed at once,” said Joe Negron, who teaches math at KIPP Infinity Middle School. (Negron, like Vilson, appeared on GothamSchools’ panel about Common Core math this month.)

He added, “Perhaps that’s what there’s a day two and day three for.”

Test tweaks

Tennessee will halve science and social studies tests for its youngest students

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced Wednesday plans to slim down science and social studies assessments for third- and fourth-graders as she seeks to respond to complaints of over-testing in Tennessee.

McQueen has been mulling over that option since meeting last summer with her testing task force. The State Department of Education received more public feedback on testing during the last eight months while developing the state’s new plan for its schools in response to a new federal education law.

Tennessee already has eliminated a state test for eighth- and tenth-graders, as well as shortened TNReady, the state’s end-of-year tests for math and reading.

It’s uncertain just how significant the latest reductions are, since McQueen also said that some “components” would be added to English tests in those grades.  

And the trimming, while significant, falls short of a suggestion to eliminate the tests altogether. Federal law does not require tests in science and social studies for those grades, like it does for math and English.

Parents and educators have become increasingly vocal about the amount of testing students are undergoing. The average Tennessee third-grader, for instance, currently spends more than 11 hours taking end-of-course tests in math, English, social studies and science. That doesn’t include practice tests and screeners through the state’s 3-year-old intervention program.

McQueen noted that more changes could be on the horizon. Her testing task force has also considered eliminating or reducing TNReady for 11th-graders because they already are required to take the ACT college-entrance exam. “We will continue to evaluate all of our options for streamlining assessments in the coming years, including in the 11th grade,” she wrote in a blog post.

McQueen also announced that the state is tweaking its schools plan to reduce the role that chronic absenteeism will play in school evaluation scores.

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act requires states to evaluate schools based off of a measure that’s not directly tied to test scores. Tennessee officials have selected chronic absenteeism, which is defined as missing 10 percent of school days for any reason, including absences or suspension. McQueen said the measure will be changed to count for 10 percent of a school’s final grade, down from 20 percent for K-8 schools and 15 percent for high schools.

Some local district officials had raised concerns that absenteeism was out of the control of schools.

early adopters

Here are the 25 districts committing to taking TNReady online this spring

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

One year after Tennessee’s first attempt at online testing fizzled, 25 out of 140 Tennessee school districts have signed up to try again.

About 130 districts were eligible to test online this year.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said Thursday the number is what she expected as districts prepare to administer the state’s TNReady assessment in April.

Although all districts will make the switch to online testing by 2019 for middle and high school students, they had the option to forge ahead this year with their oldest students.

The Department of Education is staggering its transition to online testing — a lesson learned last year when most of the state tried to do it all at once and the online platform buckled on the first day. As a result, the department fired its testing company, derailing the state’s assessment program, and later hired  Questar as its new test maker.

Districts piloted Questar’s online platform last fall, and had until Wednesday to decide whether to forge ahead with online testing for their high school students this spring or opt for paper-and-pencil tests.

McQueen announced the state’s new game plan for TNReady testing in January and said she is confident that the new platform will work.

While this year was optional for high schools, all high schools will participate in 2018. Middle and elementary schools will make the switch in 2019, though districts will have the option of administering the test on paper to its youngest students.

Districts opting in this spring are:

  • Alvin C. York Institute
  • Bedford County
  • Bledsoe County
  • Blount County
  • Bristol City
  • Campbell County
  • Cannon County
  • Cheatham County
  • Clay County
  • Cocke County
  • Coffee County
  • Cumberland County
  • Grundy County
  • Hamilton County
  • Hancock County
  • Knox County
  • Jackson-Madison County
  • Moore County
  • Morgan County
  • Putnam County
  • Scott County
  • Sullivan County
  • Trousdale County
  • Washington County
  • Williamson County