Andrew Pallotta: It’s Time To Correct The State Tests

May 2, 2019

The month of May brings the first real hints of spring. It also signals the start of the grade 3-8 New York State English Language Arts assessments. Unfortunately, this testing period has been faulty at best, and disastrous at worst. Many of the same testing problems educators faced in past years, reoccurred. After another year of student tears, teacher frustration and parent angst, we’re again left wondering — why is this still happening?

In early April, students and teachers were left in the lurch when the state’s computer-based testing system failed. Members reported that some of their students had to re-take their entire exam due to system failures.

The problems led to a delay of the second day of testing, with many grade levels postponed a week. And for teachers, who had planned their classroom lessons around the testing schedule, the last-minute change added extra stress and confusion to an already chaotic week. This happened despite the state Education Department’s assurances that the issues that plagued the assessments last year had been solved.

Enough is enough. Our students deserve better from the state. It’s time to correct the tests.

After fighting for years to have New York’s broken testing system fixed, NYSUT launched the “Correct the Tests” campaign in early April. The initiative highlights issues with the exams, and calls on the state to take action.

The grade 3-8 assessments have major problems. They use faulty scoring benchmarks they don’t accurately predict student success. They’re developmentally inappropriate. And as the problems earlier this month show, computer-based testing is unreliable and problematic.

According to the tests, more than half of New York State students aren’t proficient in ELA and math. Meanwhile, majorities of that same student group — just a year later — manage to pass the rigorous Regents exams.

New York State educators are among the best in the nation. But even I’ll admit they’re not miracle workers. Failing students don’t become achieving students overnight — unless, of course, they weren’t failing in the first place. Student achievement isn’t the problem, assessment scoring is.

The length of the tests is also an issue. Although the Board of Regents and SED shaved a day of testing from each assessment, SED didn’t reduce a proportional number of questions. The result is third graders spending more time on state assessments than many high school students spend on Regents exams. One Warren County educator reported third graders taking over four hours to finish. A Suffolk County middle school teacher had students who become physically ill due to stress.

At “Correct the Tests.com,” parents and educators can learn about problems with the tests, and get information about opting their children out of the exams. The website also invites parents and teachers to submit personal stories about testing problems in their schools.

We’re also encouraging educators and parents to write to their Regent. With the math assessments in early May, our education policymakers need to get the message that short-term fixes won’t solve the problem. Computer-based testing must be halted until it functions properly. We must fix faulty scoring benchmarks that inappropriately mislabel students and schools. And we must stop untimed assessments that set many children up for hours of developmentally inappropriate test taking.

It’s time for the state to stop making students pay for the mistakes of adults.

It’s time to correct the tests.

Andy Pallotta, a former elementary teacher, is president of the more than 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.

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