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MaryEllen Elia: This Year's Assessment Tests

Next month, hundreds of thousands of students in grades 3 through 8 will sit down in their classrooms and take the New York State assessments.

Last year, almost one in five students and their parents decided to “opt out” of the tests.  There were a number of reasons they opted out, but I think I can boil them down to three main concerns:

Parents didn’t want to have their children’s teachers evaluated based on a single test;

The tests themselves were flawed, too long and age inappropriate; and

Parents and teachers believed the assessments provided too little information too late to be of any educational value.

Since I took office last July, I’ve been working with the Board of Regents to address these concerns.  I was talking to a group of superintendents from the Rochester area the other day, and one of them asked if I thought more students would opt out this year. The truth is, I don't know. We've made improvements to the tests and we're going to make more. And the results provide important information to parents and teachers. So I'm telling everyone who will listen about these changes. Hopefully that results in many more children taking the tests.

We've unplugged the assessments from teacher evaluations --We’ve placed a four year moratorium on the use of student test scores for teacher evaluations.  For the next four years, no teacher’s evaluation can be based on student scores on state assessments.

We’ve hired a new company to help us create the tests, and a major condition of their contract is the extensive use of New York State teachers to develop and review the assessments.  We’ve started that process already.  For example, every single question on every 3 through 8 test has been reviewed by at least 22 New York State teachers from the appropriate grade level.  If they didn’t like the questions, they were not going to be on the test. 

We’ve reduced the number of questions on every assessment, grades 3-8  English Language Arts and mathematics and we are going to shorten them even more next year.  

And we’re releasing more test questions than ever before.  My goal is to release every question every year, and we’re getting closer to that goal.

We’re going to get the results and information out to districts faster than ever, to give districts, principals and teachers time to prepare and address any and all educational concerns that might come up or be available as a result of those tests.

To me, the question boils down to “why not have your child take the assessments this year?”

The tests are shorter, New York State teachers have reviewed the questions for relevance and age apropriateness.  There are no consequences for teachers, principals or students from these assessments, grades 3-8.

And the assessments will help us to do three very important things.  First, they will help districts, principals, teachers and parents understand how their students are performing in comparison with other students around the state.  And second, taking the assessments this year will help us to improve our assessments as we move forward.

And third, I think this is extremely important, it will help us to make sure that we are able to give feedback to our teachers and our parents on how well we are performing and what we need to do to get better.

Thank you very much and enjoy your spring.  I hope you think carefully about your decision to have children test this year in New York State.

MaryEllen Elia is New York State Education Commisioner.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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