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.