How will we know if the 3-8 ELA and math state tests raise educational standards; get our students ready for college and a career and accurately measure a teacher’s effectiveness? There has been no consistency or continuity and there is no indication that there will be. Determining classroom success is not as simple as the students taking a test, looking at the scores and addressing their weaknesses based on those scores.
In the last eight years these tests have been administered in January, March, May and now April. During one school year, the administration dates were changed after the school year began. The number of questions and sections on the tests, as well as the length of time to complete the tests have been changed annually.
The raw score a student gets has no correlation to the final score from grade to grade or year to year. When you ask for an explanation of what the scaled score means or what formula is used to create the scores, testing and state education representatives will say they can’t tell you or they don’t know.
When the students take the tests this month, the tests will be scored regionally and shipped to Albany within two weeks. The test results will not be released by the state for another three months. Regents exams follow the same scoring process and schools have those results in 24 hours. What exactly are they doing with the test results in Albany for three months? The tests this year are more difficult and schools have been told to expect this year’s scores to drop 30%-40%. That might be disconcerting if we knew what the scores meant to begin with.
It’s no wonder there is a growing movement by parents to “opt out” from having their children tested in grades 3-8. The State Education Department recently sent a letter stating that parents may not have their children opt out. While technically accurate, it was also misleading and seems to indicate that NYSED knows there is a problem. The law requires that the tests be administered and schools are required to have 95% participation or the school gets penalized. If a child refuses to take the test, there are no repercussions for the child. The school is held accountable, not the student. The tests are not required for promotion the way that Regents exams are for graduation.
The problems are not limited to the last few years or only the 3-8 tests. Years ago students in high school took Algebra, Geometry, and Trigonometry. Then those classes were changed to Sequential Math 1, 2 and 3 to “raise standards”, “make our students competitive”, and “better prepare them for college.” Then the state changed those courses to Math A and Math B for the same reasons. They recently changed the curriculum to… Algebra, Geometry and Algebra II/ Trigonometry. Now, with the implementation of the Common Core Standards, the State Education Department is changing the tests and the curriculum- again.
In 2003 so many students failed the Math A exam the state changed the grading scale. It has remained the same since then (even though they changed the course back to Algebra) and to this day, if a student gets 30 points out of a possible 87, their score on the Regents exam is a 65. That may sound absurd, but here is where you can review the scoring conversion chart- http://www.nysedregents.org/IntegratedAlgebra/113/ialg12013-cc.pdf.
Another growing movement among parents is to restrict what information schools collect and is being forwarded to the State Education Department due to a fear that it will be given to the Gates Foundation and testing companies. This personal information includes names, grades, test scores, race, ethnicity, disciplinary and attendance records, economic status, disabilities and health conditions. Most parents don’t realize what is being sent to the State Education Department. It has gotten so ridiculous that last year schools were told they eventually will have to report if a female student is pregnant along with the date of conception.
We spend more time testing and collecting, reporting, verifying, certifying and confirming data than ever before. We keep hearing that our students don’t test as well as students from other countries or that we have higher dropout rates. It’s an apples to oranges comparison, and anyone that takes the time to look at the educational systems of these other countries knows that. Constantly changing the curriculum and tests and how they are scored every year is not educational reform.
Standardized testing as part of an overall program has a purpose but an over reliance on tests that are constantly changing and collecting an increasing amount of personal data on students is not raising standards and does nothing to actually change the educational system as a whole. The leadership that pushes testing and data collection wants us to believe that this time- they know what they’re doing. Given recent history, why would we believe them?
Chris Ford, Au Sable Forks