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.”

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