April 16, 2013


More rigorous assessments begin

State tests harder as teacher assessment tied to student performance

TestsBob Ellis/staff photographer
Karen Matteson helps students Monday afternoon in her fifth-grade classroom at Barry Elementary School.

Staff Reporter

Students across New York begin mandated state testing today for third through eighth grades in English language arts and math. Tests are different than previous years — increased rigor and a different structure — and are tied to teacher and principal evaluations, based on the state Education Department’s Annual Professional Performance Review, known as APPR.  
The tougher tests awaiting New York students are aligned with the Common Core standards, a national set of guidelines intended to increase academic rigor.
The Education Department says the 2013 test questions will be more advanced and students will be challenged to perform more complex tasks in line with the Common Core standards, which have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Colombia.
Lynn New, principal of Barry Elementary School in Cortland, said changes from the state Department of Education have come quickly, and she is worried how it takes the focus away from the children in the classroom.
“My biggest question is how much time has this taken away from instruction?” New said.
The Education Department uses the tests results to compare students across the state and as a measure for next year’s exam; assign teachers a score based on student performance; and score school principals.
Ultimately, students are assigned a score on a scale of 1 to 4, with 4 meaning excellent, 3 meaning proficient, and 2 and 1 meaning the student is below proficiency for his or her grade level.
Newsday reported that state Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr. said it is expected that approximately 35 percent fewer students will pass this year’s tests.
Some have cited the length of the test — depending on grade-level, students could face a range of seven to nine hours of testing over the course of six days — as an unnecessary burden placed on a child.
How well students perform on the tests is used to evaluate teacher efficacy within the classroom. Based on test results, teachers are labeled as highly effective, effective, developing, or ineffective.
“Teachers want to be highly effective and effective in the classroom; they want to learn about the common core standards,” New said. “My concern is how the test takes focus away from the children.”
New said the staff does an exceptional job accommodating state expectations.
“We are trying to stay upbeat, focused, and helpful for the kids,” while minimizing the stress around the tests, she said. “We just do not want the kids feeling so stressed.”
“Tests are really limited,” adds Professor Kelly Chandler-Olcott, director and chair of English Education, Reading and Language Arts at Syracuse University.
The shift should center around developing strong readers and writers, she said.
“Even if students get all 4s on these tests, it does not mean they are appropriately literate,” Chandler-Olcott said.
The state has tested students, as early as third-grade, since the late 1970s.
New said the difference is the amount of time spent on the exams. This year and last year, the tests took roughly 70 minutes. From 2011 and earlier, however, tests were broken down into two 35-minute sections. Between the sections, students were allotted a break.
Content of the tests is another area of concern for teachers and parents. Some note inclusion of material covered is designated one or two grades ahead of a student.
“Tests are more rigorous than each previous year’s exams,” New said.
Parents within Cortland and surrounding school districts have asked about “opting out” of the state tests.
Michael Hoose, Cortland superintendent of schools, sent a letter to parents noting that the Education Department does not include an option that allows parents to officially opt their children out of the state tests. Parents, however, are choosing not to have their children participate.
Schools depend on students to take these exams; if they do not have 95 percent student participation, funding from the federal government is affected.
Although students have spent countless hours preparing for the yearly tests, there is a small group of parents planning to boycott them, noting class time could have been better spent on curriculum rather than test preparation, according to an article from the Associated Press.
“Paper-pencil tests are one dimensional and represent limited based reading,” said Chandler-Olcott. “If we’re asking students to contrast two print texts, one is left wondering if this type of literacy is career and college ready.”
Having 42 years of experience as a principal, New cautions that although the state legislates exams so children can become the best they can be, “we should be cautious about putting our eggs in one basket.”
“Life is full of tests” she said. However, “it’s one measure — there are many other things that need to be considered.”


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