NYSUT's advocacy on grade 3-8 state testing is steadfast and simple. The state is failing our kids, educators and parents. It's time to restore fairness and sanity to the testing program so we can focus on what students really need to learn and thrive.
Here are our key concerns:
The state ELA and math tests are flawed and invalid.
They don’t provide meaningful or timely information to parents and educators. They continue to mislabel and harm students and their local schools.
Though the Board of Regents shortened the grade 3–8 tests from three days to two, there are still too many questions. It doesn’t make sense for third- or fourth-graders to spend more time taking an ELA test than older students spend on a Regents Exam or the SAT for college.
The tests are developmentally inappropriate and the untimed tests are cruel and traumatic.
Now that the tests are untimed, educators report excessively long ordeals for many students — even 8-year-olds who sat for five or six hours to finish their work.
Our members report too many reading passages are above grade level, causing students great frustration. In addition, too many questions require inference skills that are simply above students’ developmental level. Too often the tests are especially inappropriate for students with disabilities and English language learners.
After a data breach last year, NYSUT wrote a detailed letter to SED and the Board of Regents, calling on them to put the brakes on computer-based testing. NYSUT voiced concerns about a lack of infrastructure and poor Internet capability in some schools and questioned whether computer-based testing accurately measures student learning — or just how well students can maneuver around a keyboard. NYSUT continues to oppose computer-based testing for grades 3–5.
The scoring benchmarks are invalid and mislabel kids.
SED has failed to adjust the troublesome proficiency benchmarks to reflect changes in the state tests. The state’s measuring stick for determining “proficiency” remains badly flawed, with students and schools being mislabeled as a result.
A: Consider that 22 percent of students who took the math test in 2017 were considered proficient. Come 2018, when many of those same children took the Algebra 1 Regents, 70 percent were considered proficient. Similarly, 28 percent of 7th graders who took the ELA test in 2014 were considered proficient, but when many of them took the ELA Regents in 11th grade four years later, 79 percent passed.
The state continues to use the same outdated benchmarks, which means these disparities will only continue.
A: It’s a combination of factors. Clearly a number of questions are grade-level inappropriate, with some educators reporting questions that are two or three grade levels beyond what a student should be tested on.
And the benchmarks are badly flawed:
The state does not change its scale score — the methodology they use to standardize test scores from year-to-year — on an annual basis. Until that happens, we will continue to see woefully incorrect measures of students’ grasps on the subject matter they are supposed to be learning.
A: The cut line for proficiency. In other words, the score that students need to meet in order to be deemed proficient is not accurate and is unfair.
A: We need more educators, specifically educators qualified to teach at each grade level we are producing tests for, involved in this process.
To fix the benchmarks specifically, we need teachers who are representative of the full range of New York students — low-needs, high-needs, students with disabilities, students of color, rural students, urban students — who can work in committees to set appropriate benchmarks for each grade level.
A fourth grade teacher knows best what a fourth grade student should know seven or eight months into the school year and how those students are likely to perform in a testing environment. So that’s who should be setting benchmarks for that grade level, and the same goes for every other grade level.
We also need to ensure that those who are hired to grade these tests are certified in the subject being assessed.
A: The benchmarks are the root of the issue, but obviously the tests themselves are flawed. In the same way you need the right educators involved in setting the benchmarks, you need the right educators involved in not only writing the test questions, but also selecting them during the compilation of tests.
The problem we have now is we have no way of knowing what teachers are preparing questions for each grade level, and those educators that the state is working with are siloed. It isn’t the fault of the teachers currently involved that the tests are so out of whack. It’s the state system they work within. What’s more, we’ve heard reports that teachers’ concerns and objections are not being weighed properly by the state.
We need committees of teachers that represent the diverse range of New York students to write the test questions, then you need those teachers actually picking the questions to build the tests to be an appropriate level of difficulty, and then you need another diverse committee of current classroom teachers who can provide a final review to control for inappropriate tests.
A: We aren’t confident that there won’t continue to be problems like we saw last year — computer crashes, kids having to take the test more than once. We say apply the brakes. We need assurances from the state that children won’t be penalized because their school is conducting computerized tests.
It’s unfair to force a child to take a test twice if their computer crashes. It’s unfair for children to be marked incorrect when they are able to show their work on a written sheet, but there is no way for them to show their work on the computer. Kids who can verbally explain their answer or write it out shouldn’t be penalized if they have difficulties typing and labor to input the correct answer in the computer. There are kids who don’t have computers or high-speed internet at home and aren’t familiar with computerized learning. It’s unfair to both them and their teachers to force them to put their curricula on hold in order to teach computer skills needed to take the tests.To be clear, we do oppose computer-based testing for grades three through five.
A: The State Education Department (SED) no longer questions a parent’s right to opt their child out of the state tests but has not adopted a formal state policy. Therefore, the opt-out process is different in each district. You should check with your school principal or district administrator to find out the process in your district.