De­spite changes, NYSUT says state tests are still flawed

The Buffalo News - - CITY&REGION - By Bar­bara O’Brien

The union rep­re­sent­ing New York State pub­lic school teach­ers is calling for more changes in the ELA and math ex­ams that thirdthrough eighth-graders are tak­ing this week and next month.

New York State United Teach­ers is launch­ing a cam­paign to “Cor­rect the tests,” and is de­mand­ing the state Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment take sig­nif­i­cant steps to ad­dress the “stress and anx­i­ety” cre­ated by what the union says are “flawed” ex­ams.

Union tweets last week sup­port­ing par­ents opt­ing their chil­dren out of the tests sported a “Game of Thrones” logo, and the union with more than 600,000 mem­bers wants to draw at­ten­tion to what it sees as the draw­backs of the test.

“They can be bet­ter. They can be de­vel­op­men­tally ap­pro­pri­ate,” said Jo­lene T. DiBrango, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of NYSUT.

The is­sues, ac­cord­ing to the union, in­clude:

• In­ac­cu­rate bench­marks that in­cor­rectly la­bel chil­dren as un­der­per­form­ing.

•Un­timed na­ture of the test that causes stress for some chil­dren.

•De­vel­op­men­tally ques­tions.

•Tech­ni­cal and other prob­lems with com­puter-based tests.

•Not enough teach­ers in­i­nap­pro­pri­ate volved in cre­at­ing the ex­ams.

The state Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment dis­agrees with the union’s po­si­tion.

“Over the past four years, Com­mis­sioner (MaryEllen) Elia and the Board of Re­gents have lis­tened to the con­cerns of par­ents and teach­ers and made sig­nif­i­cant changes to the ex­ams as a re­sult,” said Emily DeSan­tis, spokes­woman for the de­part­ment.

Those changes in­clude short­en­ing the tests, hav­ing more teach­ers in­volved in cre­at­ing the tests and giv­ing stu­dents un­lim­ited time to fin­ish them. Mean­while, the state Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment tweeted a link to a fact sheet on what ev­ery par­ent should know about par­tic­i­pa­tion in the as­sess­ments.

The state re­duced the num­ber of test ses­sions last year to “lessen test­ing fa­tigue for stu­dents,” ac­cord­ing to the Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment. The tests will con­tinue to be un­timed, a change that was in­sti­tuted in 2016. Stu­dents can con­tinue on with the test as long as they are “pro­duc­tively work­ing,” ac­cord­ing to the state.

DiBrango said there are dis­par­i­ties be­tween the percentage of stu­dents deemed pro­fi­cient in el­e­men­tary school and their per­for­mance on high school Re­gents ex­ams. For ex­am­ple,

in 2017, 22 per­cent of eighth­graders in New York State were deemed pro­fi­cient in math. A year later, when many of them took the Al­ge­bra 1 Re­gents exam, 70 per­cent were con­sid­ered pro­fi­cient.

“Some­thing’s bro­ken,” DiBrango said. “Our ninth-grade teach­ers are fan­tas­tic, but they are not ma­gi­cians.”

State Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment of­fi­cials said teach­ers ex­pe­ri­enced in the grade level con­tent area have rec­om­mended the ex­pec­ta­tions for each grade. The state said ed­u­ca­tors who par­tic­i­pated in re­view­ing the tests made sub­stan­tial con­tri­bu­tions to the test de­sign.

While the state re­duced the num­ber of test­ing days from three to two for the ELA and math ex­ams and took away time lim­its, the tests are still too long, and some stu­dents worked all day on them, she said.

“Kids get stressed, they’re anx­ious, they panic and they freeze,” she said.

NYSUT also has called for re­search to be done into com­puter-based tests, ques­tion­ing if the test as­sesses learn­ing or com­puter use and key­board skills.

“We know that stu­dents who do not have ac­cess to com­put­ers at home do poorly on the test com­pared to stu­dents who do have ac­cess,” DiBrango said. “We want to make sure these tests are as­sess­ing learn­ing that is taught in the class­room.”

State Ed­u­ca­tion De­part­ment of­fi­cials said feed­back on the com­puter-based test­ing has been positive. Com­puter-based tests have the po­ten­tial to pro­vide eas­ier ac­cess to writ­ten re­sponses and will speed up the re­lease of the fi­nal re­sults, they said.

DiBrango also said more teach­ers, as well as spe­ciale­d­u­ca­tion teach­ers and grade level reading teach­ers, should be in­volved in de­sign­ing and pro­duc­ing the tests. The union also wants to be in­volved in pick­ing those teach­ers.

NYSUT is launch­ing a web­site to pro­vide par­ents and ed­u­ca­tors with in­for­ma­tion about the tests and to pro­vide an out­let for par­ents and teach­ers to sub­mit sto­ries about test­ing is­sues in their schools.

DiBrango said the union’s cam­paign has noth­ing to do with the past use of the tests in teacher eval­u­a­tions.

“We have so­lu­tions to this. We could be de­vel­op­ing tests here that are ap­pro­pri­ate,” she said.

SAVE THE DATE – Thurs­day is the dead­line for reser­va­tions for the next pro­gram in the Let’s Do Lunch se­ries April 11 in Or­chard Park Pres­by­te­rian Church, 4369 S. Buf­falo St., Or­chard Park.

Fol­low­ing a lun­cheon at 11:30 a.m. fea­tur­ing pasta with chicken and broc­coli, his­tor­i­cal im­per­son­ator

will por­tray one of her most pop­u­lar char­ac­ters, Eleanor Roo­sevelt.

“This will be a spe­cial farewell per­for­mance, as

Ms. Re­ichard is re­tir­ing her his­tor­i­cal char­ac­ters at the end of 2019,” says lun­cheon se­ries or­ga­nizer

All adults are wel­come. Cost is $10. To re­serve a seat, call 662-9848.

– Key­note speaker will be An­drew Beiter, direc­tor – Matt Roth, Yvonne Mi­norRa­gan, Vin­cent J. Cop­pola, Richard Past­wik, Brian “Al” Rathke, Shane Vre­den­burg,

Derek Gee/Buf­falo News

“Kids get stressed, they’re anx­ious, they panic and they freeze.” – Jo­lene T. DiBrango, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of NYSUT

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