New York ed. officials cut down statewide testing time

New York ed. officials cut down statewide testing time

(N.Y) Students will spend fewer days participating in statewide English language arts and mathematics assessments in grades 3-8 next year following a Board of Regents vote to reduce the number of testing days in response to parent complaints.

Education officials in New York say the change from three days to two for each subject will not only decrease stress on students–a common complaint from those opposed to lengthy testing periods–but will also diminish scoring time for teachers and enable more schools to transition to computer-based testing sooner.

“This decision not only reduces the amount of time children will spend taking tests, but also returns valuable instructional time to our teachers,” Betty Rosa, chancellor of the Board of Regents, said in a statement. “We will make certain the tests continue to provide a valid and reliable measurement of student achievement.”

Families have been opting their children out of standardized tests at significantly increased rates in recent years in protest of high-stakes assessments that they argue focused too narrowly on reading and math, and forced schools to spend too much time preparing children for annual tests that in some states also drastically impact teacher evaluations.

Federal law now requires that schools test at least 95 percent of their student subgroups for accountability purposes. In states where schools fail to meet the 95 percent threshold, local education agencies must have a plan in place to intervene and address the issue.

In 2015, the U.S. Department of Education issued warning letters in December to Colorado, New York, Washington and California–among other states that had high percentages of opt outs–reminding education leaders that federal Title I money was at stake if states failed to reach that 95 percent threshold.

Such protests have forced education officials and lawmakers across the country to re-examine annual statewide assessments. Already in recent years, Texas lawmakers reduced the number of standardized tests at the high school level from 15 to five; Oregon and Maine legislators introduced bills allowing parents to officially opt-their children out with a consent form; and Colorado officials proposed legislation to guarantee parent opt-out rights and decrease testing time.

In New York, where education officials and state lawmakers have adopted a handful of similar changes, opt out rates remain high. According to an analysis by The New York Times, one of every six eligible students sat out at least one of the two standardized tests in 2015, more than doubling and possibly tripling the number who did so the previous year. Last year, 20 percent of students were opted out of the tests.

The Board of Regents’ decision to reduce the number of testing days follows a separate vote last year to cut the number of questions and reading passages on the exams and lift the time limit on taking the exams. According to officials at the Education Department, those changes appeared to lower the number of opts out this spring, but concerns from parents and teachers about the exams have remained.

“In response to those public concerns, last year we reduced the number of test questions and moved to untimed testing,” MaryEllen Elia, State Education Commissioner, said in a statement. “Today's decision is another important step in our efforts to deliver a rigorous testing regime that is responsive to the public’s concerns.”

In addition to removing two days from students’ testing schedules, the board also renamed the Common Core State Standards in May, adopting the title: The Next Generation English Language Arts and Mathematics Learning Standards.

The State Education Department is in the process of revising the standards, a draft of which was released last month for public comment. The regents’ final vote on the standards, originally scheduled for this month, has been postponed and a new date hasn’t been set.