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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

New York State Testing: A Marathon for Students

By Peter DeWitt — April 21, 2012 4 min read
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“The test was too long. In the middle of it I could not feel my butt.” Third Grade Student’s response on his weekly review.

The third grade response above was age appropriate for how he was feeling about the test. In his mind, the tests were far too long. We have now come to a point that makes education look ridiculous. It is no longer about creativity....it is about accountability. In NY, we have officially entered state testing time and parents, students and teachers are frustrated.

In New York State, 3rd - 8th grade students had to take the state ELA exams April 17th through April 19th. In those grades our students had to sit for 80 minutes per day for three days. Our special education students were not as fortunate. Those who receive time and a half or double time on their IEP had the opportunity to sit and take an exam for three hours a day.

We all know that high stakes testing changes the school environment. Teachers and administrators are stressed because the tests will be tied to their evaluations. Students and support staff are stressed because there is a great deal of pressure to do well on the test. After all, it wasn’t too long ago that the New York Post and other media outlets published the Value Added scores of over 18,000 teachers. The test has pushed students, parents and educators to their limits, but perhaps that is the greater plan.

I had several parents tell me that their children cried the night before each scheduled exam day because they were stressed because of the exam and exhausted from taking the one that day. Educators spent many of those days assuring kids that they should “just try their best.” However, at the same time those same teachers and administrators are beyond frustrated that children, as young as eight years old, have to sit for 80 minutes (or more) a day to take an exam.

Response by the Deputy Commissioner
“Ken Slentz, the state’s deputy commissioner for elementary and secondary education, said his agency would survey local districts through next week, to see how testing worked out” Hildebrand.

The survey did indeed arrive in our inboxes earlier in the week. It asked teachers and administrators if they thought the exams were too long. No one should need a survey, especially those enforcing the exam, to learn whether the exam was too long or not. If they did need a survey for such information than they know more about accountability than they do about children. Let me speak for most educators, parents and students...the exam was too long!

John Hildebrand wrote a story for the Newsday entitled Educators: Kids Exhausted by Exams which focused on the increased time of the test. Hildbrand wrote, “Slentz acknowledged recent complaints by teachers and parents that 90 minutes of daily testing seems excessive, but added that extra time allotments were in response to previous complaints that test-takers were rushed”.

In the article, Slentz stated, “Our intention was to take the time pressure off students -- and that’s being done in other states as well,” the deputy commissioner said. “In general, I think it’s important for folks to understand that our objective was to give students the maximum time to show what they know and are able to do.”

How is increasing the time required to complete the test, increasing the number of questions on the test, as well as increasing the number of days of the exam a way to take pressure off of students? In addition, having it all tied to teacher and administrator evaluation will never allow the pressure to be taken off of children. In fact, it will only increase the pressure on our students. Given the number of outside influences that students face on a daily basis, many of them come in unprepared for the test. Increasing the time of the exam only increases the amount of exhaustion our students will feel.

In the End
Teachers and administrators ended their week baffled, angry and sad. We have now come to a point of ridiculousness. Perhaps, the following letter from a teacher says it best.

“I find it interesting that the state’s deputy commissioner, Ken Slentz said the test times were longer in order to, “Take the time pressures off students...” The times are longer because the TESTS are longer! In 2010, for third graders, there were 21 questions in Book 1 and this year there were 36 questions. In 2010 there were 7 questions in Book 2 and yesterday third grade students completed 21 questions including for the first time an “extended response” question. Today students in third grade will complete a Book 3 for the very first time (in the past there were only two days of testing). According to information teachers have received from NYSED, it will include 4 short response questions and another extended response question.

The tests are longer therefore the testing times are longer. Also, teacher directions do NOT include any provision to end tests before 80 minutes, Please see page 13, 15, and 17. I only teach third grade math but 80 x 3 = 240 or 4 HOURS! SO the 3 hours stated by NYSED doesn’t make sense to this teacher. Many of my students needed 80 minutes or more to complete.”
Michelle, Third Grade Teacher

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.