ALBANY — On Monday, March 12, elementary and middle school educators in New York will begin preparing students for their state-level assessment tests in English Language Arts, mathematics and science.
The annual tests, which are designed to measure how well students are mastering New York state learning standards that guide classroom instruction, will be administered between April 9 and June 4. They are meant to not only ensure that students are on track to graduate from high school with the skills needed for success in college and the contemporary workplace, but also show how schools and districts are progressing with the learning standards.
In response to widespread concerns from both parents and educators during a statewide debate over standardized testing, which has become more intense since the federal No Child Left Behind law was enacted in 2001, the State Education Department (SED) has identified and started to implement a number of changes. Those concerns were exacerbated with the implementation of Common Core testing standards 10 years later, as parents and teachers became increasingly convinced that too much time is being spent “teaching to the test,” that the standards do not consider existing district inequities, and that teachers and students are simply overwhelmed.
To answer those concerns, SED has made a number of changes to the annual third to eighth grade English Language Arts and mathematics assessments. The changes were first implemented in 2016 and will continue through 2018.
Untimed testing: Beginning in 2016, ELA and math tests for third through eighth graders are no longer timed, so students who need more time to demonstrate what they know will be able to work at their own pace — within the confines of the regular school day.
Fewer test questions: The number of test questions on both ELA and math state assessment tests have been reduced. For instance, third through eighth grade ELA tests now have one less reading passage and fewer questions than tests prior to 2016.
Greater teacher involvement: Hundreds of New York State educators were involved in creating and reviewing the 2018 assessments. Beginning in fall 2015 and going forward, New York state teachers have been—and will continue to be—involved in the review of all test questions and in the construction of test forms. Teachers from across the state gathered in Albany throughout the summer and fall of 2016 and 2017 to write, evaluate and select questions for the 2018 tests.
Faster results for teachers and improved resources for parents: Like last year, SED plans to have instructional reports returned to teachers by the end of the school year and release at least 75 percent of the test questions to inform instructional decisions. Also like last year, the 2018 Score Reports for parents will feature an updated, clearer design with more information about what students should know and be able to do at each grade level. These reports are expected to be ready over the summer.
Additionally, over the next few years, the state will be moving to Computer-Based Testing (CBT) for students in third through eighth grades. Most districts across the state will administer this year’s ELA and math tests on a computer for all or some grade levels and subjects. SED has stated that computer testing will be a reality across all grade levels beginning in the 2019-20 school year.
According to Superintendent Marie Wiles, students in the Guilderland Central School District will be starting CBT on a small scale this year, to give the district the opportunity to fully assess how students perform and determine what programmatic changes need to be made to ensure they are prepared for the new form of assessment. At GCSD, the transition will begin with the math assessments for fifth grade, which will be administered on May 7 and 8. While the computer tests will have the same questions as the paper version, they will be administered via a computer, tablet or Chromebook. All other students and the fifth grade ELA assessment will be administered on paper.
Leading up to the computer testing, fifth grade math students will be engaged in guided practice sessions to ensure that they are comfortable with the tools and platform that will be used, and teachers will co-facilitate these sessions with GCSD elementary math specialists. They will use a variety of tools including a test sampler developed to give students adequate time to experience a computer testing situation. If you are interested in experiencing a CBT for yourself, please go to https://goo.gl/GVTWGF.
Bethlehem Central School District, according to Assistant Superintendent for Educational Programs Dave Hurst, has not yet begun making the shift to computer testing. “Just this year, we introduced our 1:1 Chromebook program in grades 3 through 12 and we are giving our students the benefit of time to work on their keyboarding and other computer skills before making the switch to computerized state tests,” he said. “Students are taking various other assessments on the computer, so they will certainly be ready when the time comes.”
According to SED, testing will begin with ELA subjects in April and May, followed by math in May, and sciences in May and June. The final date to submit answer sheets to scanning centers is Thursday, June 14.
“There is no preparation of students by teachers in advance of state testing,” said Hurst. “Through quality instruction delivered consistently every day, and a curriculum that is aligned to New York state standards, students are ready to take the tests in the spring.”