ditching days

The state’s final answer? Math and English tests will be cut by one day each

PHOTO: Shannan Muskopf via Flickr

State officials voted to significantly shorten the state’s grades 3-8 English and math assessments on Monday, cutting the tests from three to two days each.

Shortening the tests is a win for teachers, students and parents who argued New York’s classrooms are too focused on preparing for and taking standardized tests. Under the plan approved Monday, shorter tests would hit classrooms in spring 2018.

New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa nodded to these concerns on Monday, saying testing “has been an issue that has consumed our classrooms, our parents, our teachers.”

The state said that in addition to reducing testing days, the move will accomplish three things: Shortening scoring times for teachers, allowing schools to move more quickly to computer-based testing, and implementing a suggestion made by the governor’s Common Core Task Force.

However, the measure did not pass without debate. In a lengthy discussion, several Regents raised concerns – chief among them that shortening tests does not get to the heart of what needs to be fixed.

Shortening the tests, for instance, does not change whether teachers find the test results valuable and can use them to improve instruction, several Regents said. They suggested a broader conversation about the purpose of the tests and what information they yield.

“What is it that we’re attempting to measure?” asked Regent Judith Johnson. “And whatever it was we were attempting to measure with the current SED [State Education Department] assessments, do we actually get that data?”

Others wondered if the board made the decision to shorten the tests too quickly without analyzing potential drawbacks. Changing the tests could impede the state’s ability to make long-term comparisons, for instance, and students might not be able to show the full breadth of their abilities on a shorter exam. The state also said for this year, changes would have to be made without educator input on the number and types of questions.

“I’m troubled by not being convinced that we have sufficient answers at this point,” said Vice Chancellor Andrew Brown, who abstained from the final vote. He wondered aloud if the state had moved too “hastily” on the changes.

Still, this is only an interim step. A document outlining the new policy said these two-day sessions will be in place until there are new assessments aligned to the new “Next Generation Learning Standards,” the state’s revision of Common Core. Simultaneously, state officials are looking at creative ways to change those tests. (They discussed some options on Monday.)

In the meantime, the decision to shorten math and English tests may help offset concerns that assessments are consuming too much time. Opposition to state testing has become a major issue in New York, where one in five families opted out of tests in 2015 and 2016 to protest an overemphasis on tests and the use of standardized assessments to judge teachers and schools.

In response to these concerns, state officials took some items off the test in 2016 and gave students unlimited time to complete questions. Yet, dropping two days of testing marks the most significant change to date.

When the previous reforms were announced, Lisa Rudley, a founding member of the New York State Allies for Public Education, one of the leaders of the opt-out movement, called them “non-change changes.” But reached Sunday, Rudley called the planned elimination of testing days “a step in the right direction.”

The state teachers union also sent out a statement supporting the change. “New York should only test as much as absolutely necessary to meet the federal law’s requirements and not a question more,” said NYSUT President Andy Pallotta. “Today’s vote by the Regents takes us closer to that goal.”

Though the big-picture questions about testing are important, Rosa said, state officials had to make a final decision about the length of next year’s assessments.

“This plane either takes off or stays on the ground,” Rosa said.

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.