New York state has made changes to its statewide math and English Language Arts (ELA) assessments to make them more palatable for both students and teachers.
“Many changes have been made … with the intent to make things easier for our students,” said Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES Assistant Superintendent for Instructional Support Services Jennifer Sprong in a video produced by OCM BOCES.
The biggest change is that the number of test sessions for the exams, administered to students in grades three through eight, has been reduced from three to two.
“The total number of questions on each assessment has been reduced,” Sprong said. “This will allow students to take fewer questions and to have more time to complete their answers.”
As in 2016 and 2017, the tests will be untimed, relieving a major source of stress for some students.
“Schools and districts have the discretion to create their own approaches to ensure that all students who are productively working are given the time they need within the confines of the regular school day to take the tests,” reads a statement on the Parents’ Frequently Asked Questions page on the New York State Department of Education’s website.
Most importantly, many — but not all of — the questions themselves have the stamp of approval of New York’s teachers, having been written and reviewed by educators across the state in the fall of 2016.
“This is very exciting,” Sprong said, “as previously the questions had been written by non-educators or by testing companies.”
State Ed’s ultimate goal, according to its website, is to have educators write all of the tests’ questions.
Finally, teacher evaluations — the state’s controversial Annual Professional Performance Review, or APPR — will no longer include these assessments as part of the process.
“There is a transition period in effect in our Annual Professional Performance Review process,” Sprong said. “That means that teachers will again have transition scores not tied to the New York state testing program.”
Given the changes to the tests, educators and administrators believe the assessments will be far less stressful for students and discourage parents from “opting out.” In a letter home to parents, Brett Woodcock, principal of Morgan Road Elementary in Liverpool, noted that not only is it good for kids to learn how to take tests, but the data is valuable to the school.
“These tests measure the skills and standards that are being taught,” Woodcock wrote. “We use this information to adjust our instruction, to target learning interventions or acceleration for specific students and to identify gaps in our curriculum… If you have refused these tests in the past, I ask you to please reconsider.”
First up are the ELA tests, which will be administered on two consecutive days between April 11 and April 13 if the school is using the paper and pencil version; if they have opted for the computer-based test (CBT), they’ll be given between April 10 and April 17. The math exams will follow on two consecutive days between May 1 and May 3 for paper and pencil or May 1 and May 8 for the CBT.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.