Testing Testing

Manhattan principals join protest against this year’s state reading test

Manhattan principals are joining their colleagues in Brooklyn in protesting the quality of this year’s state English language arts exam, which students in elementary and middle school took last week.

Two Brooklyn schools held rallies against the tests on Friday. Now, principals in District 2, which includes the Upper East Side and most of Manhattan below 59th Street, are circulating a letter that invites families to rallies at their schools at the end of the week, promising a “somewhat larger demonstration” before school on Friday.

The letter describes principals’ disappointment after realizing that the concerns that educators and families raised last year about the state’s Common Core-aligned tests were not fully addressed in this year’s exams.

“As school leaders, we supported teachers in ensuring that students and families kept the tests in perspective — they were important, but by no means the ultimate measure of who they are as readers, students, or human beings. We encouraged them to be optimistic, and did our best to do the same,” the principals write. “Frankly, many of us were disappointed by the design and quality of the tests and stood by helplessly while kids struggled to determine best answers, distorting much of what we’d taught them about effective reading skills and strategies and forgoing deep comprehension for something quite different.”

The educator-led movement comes in contrast to parent protest that reached an apex just before the exams, when hundreds of parents across the city said they were opting their children out of the tests. Few families opted out in District 2, which the principals said had been the case because they “had high hopes, and, perhaps mistakenly, assured families that this year’s exam would reflect the feedback test makers and state officials had received from educators and families.”

The complete letter being distributed by principals in District 2 is below. An early version that Chalkbeat received was signed by Adele Schroeter, principal of P.S. 59, and Lisa Ripperger, principal of P.S. 234, who together proposed a “somewhat larger demonstration” than took place in Brooklyn last week.

Community Action: Join Us in Speaking Out Regarding the NYS English Language Arts Exam

Friday, April 11th, at District 2 Schools

Dear District 2 Families,

Community School District 2 represents a richly diverse group of school communities and it is not often these days that we have an opportunity to join in a shared effort.  Last week, and for several weeks prior, every one of our upper grade classrooms devoted hours of instructional time, vast human resources, and a tremendous amount of effort to preparing students to do well on the NYS ELA exams and, ultimately, to administering them.  This week, a number of teachers will miss an entire week of instruction to score these exams. Few District 2 students opted out, in part because we had high hopes, and, perhaps mistakenly, assured families that this year’s exam would reflect the feedback test makers and state officials had received from educators and families regarding the design of the test following last year’s administration.  Our students worked extremely hard and did their very best.  As school leaders, we supported teachers in ensuring that students and families kept the tests in perspective – they were important, but by no means the ultimate measure of who they are as readers, students, or human beings. We encouraged them to be optimistic, and did our best to do the same.  Frankly, many of us were disappointed by the design and quality of the tests and stood by helplessly while kids struggled to determine best answers, distorting much of what we’d taught them about effective reading skills and strategies and forgoing deep comprehension for something quite different.

Last Friday morning, Liz Phillips, the principal of PS321 in Brooklyn, led her staff and her parent community in a demonstration objecting, not to testing or accountability, but to these tests in particular and, importantly, to their high stakes nature and the policy of refusing to release other than a small percentage of the questions.  500 staff and parents participated.

By Friday evening officials were dismissing the importance of their statement, claiming that Liz and her community represented only a tiny percentage of those affected, implying that the rest of us were satisfied.  Given the terribly high stakes of these tests, for schools, for teachers and for kids, and the enormous amount of human, intellectual and financial resources that have been devoted to them, test makers should be prepared to stand by them and to allow them to undergo close scrutiny.

District 2 schools will be holding a district wide demonstration, making sure our thoughts on this are loud and clear and making it more difficult to dismiss the efforts of one school.  On Friday morning, April 11th, at 8:00am, we invite our families and staff to join District 2 schools in speaking out, expressing our deep dissatisfaction with the 2014 NYS ELA exam. Among the concerns shared by many schools are the following: The tests seem not to be particularly well-aligned with the Common Core Learning Standards; the questions are poorly constructed and ambiguous; the tests themselves are embargoed and only a handful of questions will be released next year; teachers are not permitted to use the questions or the results to inform their teaching; students and families receive little or no specific feedback; this year, there were product placements (i.e., Nike, Barbie) woven throughout the exam. We are inviting you and your family to join together as a school community in this action, helping to ensure that officials are not left to wonder whether or not we were satisfied.

Yours truly,
District 2 Principals

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