New York poised to shorten grades 3-8 math and English tests by one day each

In a major testing move, the state Board of Regents will vote Monday on whether to shorten grades 3-8 math and English assessments from three to two days each, according to a state document.

Shortening tests has become a rallying cry for teachers, students and parents across New York who believe the state places too much emphasis on testing – and that spending six days each year on assessments is a poor use of time.

“There has been considerable interest in reducing the length of the grades 3-8 English language arts and mathematics assessments,” the state materials read. “One way of achieving this would be to eliminate one session from each test.”

The testing boycott movement, known as opt-out, swelled after new learning standards made tests more difficult to pass just as stakes grew higher for teachers and schools. In 2015 and 2016, roughly one in five New York families chose to boycott the exams to protest the assessments and the state’s broader education policy agenda. (Final opt-out figures are not yet available for 2017.)

The state responded to these concerns in time for the 2016 tests by removing some questions from the tests and providing unlimited time to ease pressure on students. (Opt-out leaders quickly said those changes were not enough.)

Shortening math and English tests to two days each would mark the first major change to state tests since 2016. State officials chose to keep the tests consistent this year, citing the importance of stable yearly comparisons. If the Regents approve the proposal, it would go into effect for the spring of 2018, according to the state.

High Achievement New York, a group that advocates for preserving high standards, sent a statement supporting the change.

“Two days of testing is a natural next step, as long as the assessments continue to cover the material needed to truly measure every student’s strengths and challenges,” the statement read.

Lisa Rudley, a founding member of New York State Allies for Public Education, which helps lead the opt-out movement, said the change is a positive move.

“Reducing testing days from six days to four for ELA and math is a step in the right direction,” Rudley said, “but the devil is in the details of how long children will actually sit for each day.”

If state policymakers approve the change, it could raise questions about how to judge schools or students over time. After last year’s changes, the state said testing changes precluded an apples-to-apples comparison from the previous year, though the city still touted the gains and continued to use the tests to evaluate struggling schools.