Students in grades 3-8 all across New York have begun taking the new high-stakes standardized tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards to better assess how much they know and to promote college and career readiness.
But some Long Island parents have decided to or are contemplating keeping their children from taking the exams. They see the excessive focus on test-taking as counter-productive, placing too much pressure on kids. Others contend that “core aligned” tests are being given without “bridging” them with a curriculum and professional package for teachers.
But, according to Fred Smith, a testing specialist, consultant and member of Change the Stakes, a parent advocacy group, there are even more issues regarding the tests to take into consideration.
Smith, a retired administrative analyst for the New York City public schools, says that, by design, the exams allow children significantly less time to complete test items than in the past. The pressure caused by the shorter time limits, he warns, is “sharply inconsistent with the grandiose claims about what the standards are supposed to mean for students.”
For the English Language Arts exams, there is a 7% decrease in time per item and for math, the average time allotted drops by 13%, ranging up to a 26% decrease in grade 3.
Last year, third graders had three hours over two days to complete 58 math items. Now, they will be required to answer 61 items in just two hours and twenty minutes. Smith points out that this “somehow will be the vital first stage in projecting whether they will be ready for college and employment ten years from now.”
“Items will be more difficult and we’ll give children less time to read more complex material and solve more challenging math problems using, in testing jargon, “speeded” tests. Things will be harder this year, kids will struggle, results will decline, but that’s a sure sign that we’re on the path to improvement,” Smith said.
Smith also points out NCS Person, the publisher of the 2013 tests, has included experimental items that do not count in the exam scoring. The purpose of the items is to determine which questions should be included on subsequent tests, and students will not be able to tell them apart.
The problem, Smith contends, is that “field test” items will require students to spend time and effort on unrefined material. They can appear anywhere on the test, and if they occur at the onset, children may become frustrated and discouraged before they have a chance to get to the questions that do count. This will adversely impact their chances of doing well on the rest of the test.
Smith further points out that forcing children to act as subjects for commercial research purposes without parental knowledge and informed consent raises serious legal and ethical questions. The State Education Department has not cited any legal authority authorizing it to do so.
What’s your opinion? Please include your comments below or on our Long Island Living Discussion Forum.