On Wednesday, March 27, State Education Commissioner, Mary Ellen Elia, sent out an email to teachers and administrators across the state praising the work of the State Education Department in improving the tests during her tenure as Commissioner.
Unfortunately, the Commissioner’s email was filled with quite a few erroneous claims regarding areas such as the appropriateness of the length of the tests, input received from teachers in writing test questions and the effectiveness of computer-based state testing.
Our state teacher’s union, NYSUT, went through Commissioner Elia’s email and produced a strong rebuttal to the claims made in it. You can read that rebuttal here:
The facts remain that the state tests are flawed and must be improved in several areas.
- The tests are too long. As shown in the chart below, the state ELA and Math tests taken by grades 3-8 are longer than major exams taken by high school students!
- The tests are developmentally inappropriate. Our state union leadership has offered many times to help tailor the exams to age appropriate curriculum. Nevertheless, the state education department has refused to accept those offers. Instead, it continues to produce tests that push way beyond reasonable grade level standards.
- Untimed tests are cruel and traumatic. Some students spend an entire school day on exams because state guidelines say that they should work as long as necessary to complete the test. Stories abound of students working for well over 6 hours on a single exam day, only to have to come back to school tomorrow and do it all over again.
- As we have seen recently, computer-based testing is problematic and has been thrust upon districts too quickly. Many students lack the keyboarding skills necessary to complete the exams without a tremendous amount of stress and anxiety. It has also been shown that forcing some students to take the test on a computer has resulted in errors that would not have occurred on a typical written exam.
- Scoring benchmarks for the tests are completely invalid and mislabel students. Thousands of students across our state who were rated as below grade level on the state tests have gone on to receive passing grades on the state high school Regents exams and graduate at a very high rate. This clearly shows that the benchmarks used for the state tests on the younger grade levels are not set correctly and must be changed.
- Teachers do not receive scores of tests in enough time to assist students before the conclusion of the school year with areas that need improvement. Also, copies of exams and test questions are kept from teachers, parents and administrators. By not providing scores and keeping test questions secret, the State Education Department makes it impossible for teachers to use the tests as tools to inform future instruction.
The era of corporate-driven high stakes testing is still upon public education. But many stakeholders in public education have not relented in their efforts to “Correct the Tests,” and create an assessment system that meets appropriate education goals for our children. It is clear that until the State Education Department takes the necessary steps to put such a system in place, opt-outs will continue in full force as will resistance to the tests from many stakeholders.