New York State moves 3-8 testing to May

It started with a question on a listserv, sort of like a rumble in the background. I spent a lovely day doing program design and then visiting The Cloisters in New York City. My cell phone battery died mid-morning so I missed the rumble rising to a dull roar. By time I got home and back on-line, the roar had crested and the conversations regarding implications already in progress.

All New York State students in Grades 3-8 will be taking the mathematics and English Langauge Arts assessments in May beginning next year.

The rumor was confirmed on the DATAG listserv with the following message:
Johanna Duncan Poitier just sent out a special edition issue of News and Notes which provides important updates from the June meeting of the Board of Regents to District Superintendents, Superintendents of Schools, Administrators of Charter and Nonpublic Schools, and Other Partners which included a confirmation of the Regents action earlier today moving the 3-8 ELA and Math assessments to May starting next year.
I’m sure more will be released in the coming days, including guidance on how schools should handle administration, scoring, data reporting, and other aspects of the assessments. To hear what others were thinking, I connected with my PLN on Twitter and Facebook and the responses were similar. Lots of surprise that we went from survey to action so quickly, panic at the thought of 3rd graders sitting through 5 straight days of testing, and bafflement about what it will look like in practice. Talking through the consequences has been fascinating. Some of the comments from conversations are below. I liked to the author's blog when possible:

Positive Consequence: Teachers can now teach Math and ELA all year long. April Spring Break can provide a natural break between teaching content and teaching students test sophistication or test wise-ness.

Negative Consequence: Eighth graders may conceivably be testing (Math, ELA, Science, and SS) more than learning during the month of May. (Angela)

Positive: The assessments can be viewed as a one-shot deal that happens at the end of the year. A chance to show off what you know, like the big kids in high school.

Negative: A nine year old probably won’t see it that way. (Theresa)

Positive: Weather is less likely to impact testing administration.

Negative: Scoring all assessments at the same time might lead to more than one testing and assessment coordinator cowering in a corner, whimpering.

Positive: The media will report on test data once a year, rather than twice. (Erin)

Negative: People may perceive this as a response to the increase in scores. A way to shake things up so students don't get to used to the test.

I expect the conversation will crest again as the press reports the change. I, like many others, have lots of questions. I wonder how students feel about the change. Were students given the chance to respond to the survey? Angela wonders if it's time to combine ELA and Social Studies into one assessment. What about the impact on final exams, especially given the recent article in The Buffalo News about schools using SED scores in student averages? ... and more more.

Your thoughts?

Change or Slight of Hand?

According to news reports this past week, 46 states including New York State, have agreed to “the process and development of voluntary, common standards.” Said standards would be in draft form for review by July 2009 with grade-by-grade standards available in December 2009. States would have three years to adopt and implement those standards.

Now, I am not against national standards per se, I just want standards that are manageable, measurable and relevant. Having waited anxiously for the revision to the NYS ELA standards since last June, I find it hard to believe that a national group with appropriate representation is going to be able to reach consensus and produce something that will meet those criteria in a matter of a few weeks. Sadly, I became even more skeptical when I read the actual agreement drafted by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices which contains criteria for said standards, which will be:
- Fewer, clearer, and higher, to best drive effective policy and practice;
- Aligned with college and work expectations, so that all students are prepared for success upon graduating from high school;
- Inclusive of rigorous content and application of knowledge through high-order skills, so that all students are prepared for the 21st century;
- Internationally benchmarked, so that all students are prepared for succeeding in our global economy and society; and
- Research and evidence-based.

It has taken a year for NYS to review and develop a plan for their revision of state standards in ELA. The last time I was in Albany I was told the committee was still discussing them and “tweaking” what they had before roll-out for public comment, now scheduled for Fall 2009. We have had some sneak peeks at what to anticipate, such as the fact that we will now have a Literacy and Literature strand and that in addition to Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking, we will now add Viewing and Presenting.

The latter two are very similar to the National Council for the Teachers of English (NCTE) Standards for the English Language Arts which frankly don’t look too terribly different from what NYS currently has in place. So the cynic in me is doubting whether there is going to be any real change when it comes to the standards. If NYS has already spent significant time and energy into developing these revised standards, yet have agreed to develop the national pieces (of which 85% should be adopted by the states voluntarily) – is there going to be real change or are we just going through the motions?