take it back

One day after sweeping testing announcement, New York state walks it back

PHOTO: Monica Disare
State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia at the School of Diplomacy in the Bronx.

One day after New York state officials announced standardized tests would not change in 2017 or 2018, the same officials quickly altered their position.

Instead of keeping tests constant for three years, as the state had announced, Chancellor Betty Rosa suggested Tuesday morning that testing changes during 2018 are still up for discussion. Later in the day, education department spokesperson Emily DeSantis confirmed Rosa’s statement.

“Given the recent events of the past month and our discussions yesterday, we are making no decisions right now about the 2018 assessments,” DeSantis said.

State officials are calling Tuesday’s announcement a “clarification,” but it directly contradicts a press release sent out by state officials on Monday. Titled “No changes to grades 3-8 ELA and math tests in 2017 or 2018,” the press release says the state considered shortening the tests to two days each, but decided that would make stable comparisons between years impossible. Both Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and Chancellor Betty Rosa are quoted in Monday’s release supporting the decision.

It’s not clear exactly what changed between Monday morning and Tuesday afternoon, but several groups expressed outrage in the interim. The state’s teachers union said the state’s initial vow not to change the tests showed a “disregard” for the concerns of educators and parents and said the decision was made without their input. “So much for listening,” the union wrote in a statement.

The state’s testing opt-out movement, which includes one in five families across the state, also pushed for more aggressive testing changes. Lisa Rudley, one of movement’s leaders said after Monday’s announcement that keeping the tests the same length through 2018 would give families a “green light” to keep boycotting.

Rudley, who is still not satisfied with the state’s decision to keep tests constant in 2017, said she is unsure whether public outcry changed officials’ minds on Monday night. But regardless, she said, the discrepancy is concerning.

“The press release said one thing, then they walked it back the next day,” Rudley said. “That’s just uncomfortable for everybody. It’s not giving us confidence in what’s happening.”

Carl Korn, spokesman for the state’s teachers union, also did not take explicit credit for the state’s change of heart, saying only, “Parents and educators together have been united in pushing back against excessive testing.”

Rosa, in her statement Tuesday morning, said she wanted to make sure the state considered input from experts, parents, teachers, educators and others who have a “vested interest in the welfare of our children” when making decisions about the 2018 tests.

Groups that supported the original announcement Monday as better for the measurement of student progress, such as High Achievement New York, were less excited about Tuesday’s change and urged the state to keep tests constant in 2018.

“Continuity matters,” said Stephen Sigmund, executive director of High Achievement New York. “Further improvements to the assessments after revised standards are rolled out make sense, but not before then. And we’re hopeful that SED sticks with its two year commitment.”

rules and regs

State shortens length of ‘gag order’ on teachers discussing Regents questions online

PHOTO: G. Tatter

After pushback from teachers, the State Education Department has changed a new provision that temporarily prohibits teachers from discussing Regents exam questions online.

The original rule stated that teachers could not use email or a listserv to discuss test questions or other specific content with other teachers until a week after the exam period ended on June 23. As Chalkbeat reported Tuesday, teachers objected, arguing that they sometimes needed to discuss questions in order to properly grade the tests or to challenge questions that seems unfair.

Under the change, tests taken between June 13 and June 16 can be discussed online beginning June 23. And for those taken between June 19 and June 22, teachers can discuss content online beginning June 27.

According to education department officials, the provision was intended to ensure that testing material did not spread online before all students had completed their exams, particularly among schools that serve students with special needs, who qualify for multiple-day testing.

“We believe that nearly all students who are testing with this accommodation will have completed their exams by these dates,” Steven Katz, director of the Office of State Assessment, wrote in a memo to school principals and leaders.

Still, longtime physics teacher Gene Gordon and former president of the Science Teachers Association of New York State noted that, to some extent, the damage was done since the amendment to the rule came out only after many teachers had already graded their exams.

“It did not have any real effect,” Gordon said.

The New York State United Teachers — which criticized the new provision on Tuesday as a “gag order” and called for its repeal — called the amendment a “clear victory” for educators. Still, NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn told Chalkbeat, “it clearly will be more helpful in the future than this year.”

Testing Testing

Calculator mix-up could force some students to retake ISTEP, and Pearson is partially to blame

PHOTO: Ann Schimke

ISTEP scores for thousands of students across the state will be thrown out this year, including at two Indianapolis private schools, according to state officials.

The mishap can be traced back to calculators. Students at 20 schools used calculators on a section of the 2017 ISTEP math test when they shouldn’t have — in at least one district because of incorrect instructions from Pearson, the company that administers the tests in Indiana.

It’s a small glitch compared to the massive testing issues Indiana experienced with its previous testing company, CTB McGraw Hill. But years of problems have put teachers, students and parents on high alert for even minor hiccups. In 2013, for example, about 78,000 students had their computers malfunction during testing. Pearson began administering ISTEP in 2016.

The calculator mix-up involving Pearson happened in Rochester Community Schools, located about two hours north of Indianapolis. About 700 students in three schools received the incorrect instructions.

Molly Deuberry, spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Education, said that Rochester is the only district known to have received the incorrect instructions, but the state is also investigating calculator-related problems at 19 other schools.

According to federal rules, students who use calculators on non-calculator test sections must have their scores labeled as “undetermined.” Current sophomores will need to retake the test, since passing the 10th-grade exam is a graduation requirement in Indiana. Students will have multiple opportunities to do so, including during the summer, state officials said.

It’s not clear how the invalidated scores will affect those schools’ A-F letter grades. It is up to the Indiana State Board of Education to handle A-F grade appeals, which districts can request once grades are released.

“The Department and State Board will collaborate to ensure that the State Board receives sufficient detail about this incident when reviewing the appeals,” the education department said in an email.

Pearson spokesman Scott Overland said in an email that they would work with the education department to follow up on the calculator issues and correct their processes for next year.

“In some cases, Pearson inadvertently provided inaccurate or unclear guidance on the use of calculators during testing,” Overland said. “In these instances, we followed up quickly to help local school officials take corrective action.”

Here are the districts and schools the state says had students incorrectly use calculators on this year’s ISTEP:

  • Covington Christian School, Covington
  • Eastbrook South Elementary, Eastbrook Schools
  • Eastern Hancock Elementary School, Eastern Hancock County Schools
  • Emmanuel-St. Michael Lutheran School, Fort Wayne
  • Frankfort Middle School, Frankfort Community Schools
  • George M Riddle Elementary School, Rochester Community Schools
  • Lasalle Elementary School, School City of Mishawaka
  • New Haven Middle School, East Allen County Schools
  • Rochester Community Middle School, Rochester Community Schools
  • Rochester Community High School, Rochester Community Schools
  • Saint Boniface School, Lafayette
  • Saint Joseph High School, South Bend
  • Saint Roch Catholic School, Indianapolis
  • Silver Creek Middle School, West Clark Community Schools
  • St. Louis de Montfort School, Lafayette
  • Tennyson Elementary School, Warrick County Schools
  • Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, School City of Hammond
  • Trinity Christian School, Indianapolis
  • Waterloo Elementary School, DeKalb County Schools
  • Westfield Middle School, Westfield-Washington Schools

This story has been updated to include comments from Pearson.