On March 24, 2014 New York State Education Commissioner, John King, published a memo to NYS superintendents regarding the administration of this year’s Common Core state tests. In true Race to the Top fashion, King opens by claiming that New York is leading the country “…toward a more rigorous and challenging system of public education that better prepares our children for college, work, and life.” Note the addition of ‘life’ as a goal. In case you are mourning the omission of the ‘readiness’ bit, worry not; it appears on page two in this paragraph:
“As we all learned last year when we first administered the Common Core assessments, the test is harder, and the proficiency rates will be lower than on the old tests that did not reflect the higher standards. This does not mean our teachers are any less effective or our students are any less prepared. It simply means we have set higher aspirations as we work to help our students be truly college and career ready.”
My favorite part of the letter, though, is when John King condescendingly tells the superintendents that:
“It is especially important that you communicate now to help correct misinformation that can cause anxiety and frustration among students and teachers. When everyone understands how the assessments help us better identify student strengths and needs and better support the growth of classroom teachers, the anxiety will lessen and the students will feel more comfortable.”
Here’s what John King ISN’T addressing in his letter on New York’s Common Core standardized testing program:
1.) From NYS Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE): “Excessive standardized testing is consuming 25% of our children’s academic year. It forces teachers to “teach to test”, costs millions of dollars, teaches children there is only one right answer, takes the joy out of learning, and creates major cheating in school districts.”
2.) The lack of transparency addressed by NYS testing expert Fred Smith: “By contract, Pearson is obligated to produce two reports each year. It is responsible for delivering a Technical Report that includes an analysis of all items—their difficulty levels and how well they functioned, including omission rates. The report is due in December. The 2012 Technical report was not posted until July 2013 (although it bore a 2012 date). This prevented scrutiny of 2012’s operational tests until after April 2013’s core-aligned exams had been given. Whatever knowledge might have been gained from the report pertinent to construction of the 2013 exams was rendered useless. This is consistent with SED’s effort to write off the 2012 exams as being transitional and not comparable to 2013.”
As of 3/24/14, the NYSED has not – to my knowledge – released the technical report of the 2013 tests that was due in December 2013. This Pearson-produced report is costing the state $75,000. Of the 2013 tests, all I know is that my English-language learners (ELLs) received a score of 1 or 2 – 1 is considered ‘failing’ – and that few (if any) are among the 3% of ELLs in New York State who “passed.” I have not seen an item analysis so the test results are completely meaningless to me. In no way do the overall scores reflect what my ELLs know and how they’ve progressed academically. I only have use for my own teacher-created assessments.
Similarly, the state’s ever-changing cut scores are unreliable.
3.) An inordinate amount of planning and organizing time is devoted to preparing for the state tests. Giving the state tests is an administrative and logistical nightmare at the school level. Out-of-classroom teachers are pulled from their regular teaching program to administer and score the tests. Countless hours are spend bubbling testing grids and organizing them alphabetically by class. IEPs (individualized education program) are examined closely to ensure that students with special needs receive the correct testing accommodation(s). These include directions read and re-read, extended time, separate location, on-task focusing prompts, revised test directions, questions read and re-read. ELLs and some former ELLs are pulled from their regular classrooms for testing because they are entitled to extended time in a separate location. Also, there is professional development for teachers on testing policies and procedures including “reporting prohibited conduct by adults, student cheating, and other testing irregularities.”
4.) ELLs with just 12 months in the system are mandated to take the ELA (English-language arts) exam. This is just wrong. Inhumane, really.
5.) The tests are developmentally inappropriate, especially for students with special needs. Here’s what I reported on the length and format of last year’s 5th grade ELA test:
Over the course of three consecutive days, they were asked to answer a total of 63 multiple-choice questions on two different answer grids, and eight short-response questions and two extended-response questions in two different booklets. In order to do this, they had to first carefully read and re-read a large number of reading passages.
The following week, my 5th grade ELLs spent three days taking the math exam. These elementary students were subjected to a total of six days – 13.5 hours – of testing in ELA and math.
John King appears to be nervous about the growing resistance to Common Core standardized testing here in New York. He should be.