A Test For You

Dr. Ralph Kerr, President of the Teaching and Learning Institute
Dr. Ralph Kerr, President of the Teaching and Learning Institute

By Ralph Kerr

What has caused the most upheaval in public schools over the past five years? Budgets, property taxes, athletics, school board elections, personnel decisions. Sorry, if you guessed any of the above you guessed wrong. Although some of these issues may have caused some level of concern in some districts nothing has caused upheaval like the New York State ELA and Math tests administered to students in grades 3-8. Formerly known as the tests connected to the Common Core these tests have now been renamed tests to measure the New Generation Learning Standards.

Over five years ago the Education Department of the Federal Government attempted to address the issue of wide disparities in student achievement in various States by calling on all States to develop a testing program that would be approved by the Feds. For the benefit of students in all States I believe this was a worthy goal and solution to the disparity. In New York State this resulted in the Common Core, a set of tests in English Language Arts (ELA) and Math, developed in conjunction with the State Education Department, to be administered annually to all students in grades 3-8 in every public school district in NYS. Even before the tests were given the first time, teachers unions and parents protested against their administration. Because of the concerns expressed, an Opt Out provision was developed. This meant that concerned parent could choose to opt their children out of taking the tests. This resulted in an average of 20% of all students in the State not taking the tests. Teacher unions had concerns about how the tests were developed and the possibility of students test results being used as a factor in their annual evaluations. Parents heard these teacher concerns expressed loudly in various ways and supported these concerns. Some parents also saw the tests as putting too much pressure on their children to perform.

Last year in a series of statewide meetings these concerns were expressed again. In an attempt to address these continuing concern this year major revisions were made to the tests in an attempt to alleviate some of these concerns. Teachers were assured the tests would not be used as part of their evaluation. Testing days were reduced from three days for ELA and Math to two days for each. Fewer questions were included on each test and students were given unlimited time to complete the tests. Also this year the ELA tests were administered in April. The Math tests will be given in May. Despite these changes I assume there will still be thousands of students who will be opted out of taking the tests.

Here is my take on the situation. Student achievement needs to be assessed on a regular basis. I believe there is benefit in comparing student achievement not only with a classroom, but within a school, a school district and even in other school districts. There is no other way to do this other than to have statewide tests. I also believe that teacher performance should be tied to student achievement. Results of these tests should be at least a factor in assessing teacher performance. I also believe that some parents are too quick to try to relieve their children of pressure and stress. Life is full of pressure and stress. Children can benefit from learning to cope with these life issues early. A friend of mine, who will go nameless for his sake, says parents should simply tell their children, “Suck it up, buttercup.”

What do you think? Let me know at tli@frontiernet.net.

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