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.

ASD scores

In Tennessee’s turnaround district, 9 in 10 young students fall short on their first TNReady exams

PHOTO: Scott Elliott

Nine out of 10 of elementary- and middle-school students in Tennessee’s turnaround district aren’t scoring on grade level in English and math, according to test score data released Thursday.

The news is unsurprising: The Achievement School District oversees 32 of the state’s lowest-performing schools. But it offers yet another piece of evidence that the turnaround initiative has fallen far short of its ambitious original goal of vaulting struggling schools to success.

Around 5,300 students in grades 3-8 in ASD schools took the new, harder state exam, TNReady, last spring. Here’s how many scored “below” or “approaching,” meaning they did not meet the state’s standards:

  • 91.8 percent of students in English language arts;
  • 91.5 percent in math;
  • 77.9 percent in science.

View scores for all ASD schools in our spreadsheet

In all cases, ASD schools’ scores fell short of state averages, which were all lower than in the past because of the new exam’s higher standards. About 66 percent of students statewide weren’t on grade level in English language arts, 62 percent weren’t on grade level in math, and 41 percent fell short in science.

ASD schools also performed slightly worse, on average, than the 15 elementary and middle schools in Shelby County Schools’ Innovation Zone, the district’s own initiative for low-performing schools. On average, about 89 percent of iZone students in 3-8 weren’t on grade level in English; 84 percent fell short of the state’s standards in math.

The last time that elementary and middle schools across the state received test scores, in 2015, ASD schools posted scores showing faster-than-average improvement. (Last year’s tests for grades 3-8 were canceled because of technical problems.)

The low scores released today suggest that the ASD’s successes with TCAP, the 2015 exam, did not carry over to the higher standards of TNReady.

But Verna Ruffin, the district’s new chief of academics, said the scores set a new bar for future growth and warned against comparing them to previous results.

“TNReady has more challenging questions and is based on a different, more rigorous set of expectations developed by Tennessee educators,” Ruffin said in a statement. “For the Achievement School District, this means that we will use this new baseline data to inform instructional practices and strategically meet the needs of our students and staff as we acknowledge the areas of strength and those areas for improvement.”

Some ASD schools broke the mold and posted some strong results. Humes Preparatory Middle School, for example, had nearly half of students meet or exceed the state’s standards in science, although only 7 percent of students in math and 12 percent in reading were on grade level.

Thursday’s score release also included individual high school level scores. View scores for individual schools throughout the state as part of our spreadsheet here.

Are Children Learning

School-by-school TNReady scores for 2017 are out now. See how your school performed

PHOTO: Zondra Williams/Shelby County Schools
Students at Wells Station Elementary School in Memphis hold a pep rally before the launch of state tests, which took place between April 17 and May 5 across Tennessee.

Nearly six months after Tennessee students sat down for their end-of-year exams, all of the scores are now out. State officials released the final installment Thursday, offering up detailed information about scores for each school in the state.

Only about a third of students met the state’s English standards, and performance in math was not much better, according to scores released in August.

The new data illuminates how each school fared in the ongoing shift to higher standards. Statewide, scores for students in grades 3-8, the first since last year’s TNReady exam was canceled amid technical difficulties, were lower than in the past. Scores also remained low in the second year of high school tests.

“These results show us both where we can learn from schools that are excelling and where we have specific schools or student groups that need better support to help them achieve success – so they graduate from high school with the ability to choose their path in life,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said in a statement.

Did some schools prepare teachers and students better for the new state standards, which are similar to the Common Core? Was Memphis’s score drop distributed evenly across the city’s schools? We’ll be looking at the data today to try to answer those questions.

Check out all of the scores in our spreadsheet or on the state website and add your questions and insights in the comments.