Testing has always been a part of school. It’s the way educators assess student learning. But last school year, as the State Education Department implemented the new Common Core Learning Standards and rolled out new state assessments to accompany them, teachers, administrators, students and parents said the tests were no longer assessing student learning.
Now, in year two of the Common Core, educators and parents are echoing similar sentiments as New York State Commissioner of Education John King Jr. continues to receive negative feedback across the state.
In a letter sent out to school superintendents on Oct. 24, King said that while testing is important, the Board of Regents discussed a new initiative on Oct. 21 to “keep the focus on teaching in New York State Schools.”
King wrote that the amount of testing “should be the minimum necessary to inform effective decision-making. Test results should be used only as one of multiple measures of progress, and tests should reflect our instructional priorities.”
One of the initiatives deals with testing for eighth grade students, who, under the current system, might take both the Regents Exam in algebra and the Grade 8 mathematics exam. King is seeking a waiver from the U.S. Education Department so that these students only have to take the Regents Exam.
Central High School District Superintendent Dr. Bill Heidenreich said it’s good that this waiver is being done, but it should have happened sooner. “While board members and superintendents have advocated this for years,” Heidenreich said, “it wasn’t until only recently that the commissioner and the Board of Regents began to seriously entertain it.”
Last month, King canceled his remaining public meetings on his tour through the state after backlash from parents and educators during a meeting in upstate Poughkeepsie. He was supposed to appear at Garden City High School on Oct. 15.
Tina Correa, a Valley Stream mother of three who has students at Clear Stream Avenue School and Memorial Junior High School, said although her kids did not “opt-out” of state tests last school year, they likely will this year.
“I am not against the state tests,” she said. “I’m against the new test under the Common Core guidelines and I’m against schools now focusing on teaching for the test. Where is the creativity now?”
Lisa Burke said that her oldest of three children, two of which attend Wheeler Avenue School, opted out of the math assessments last year.
“There is entirely too much testing and these tests begin way too young,” Burke said. “Kids are being subjected to a stressful, grueling prep that starts the day they walk into school.
“Teachers freely admit that they are ‘teaching to the test’ which leaves very little room for actually learning the real world skills that are needed to succeed in life,” she added. “These tests are hurting our children.”
Heidenreich said the Common Core was implemented too fast last year. “Part of me says, ‘What was the rush?’” he said. “If you’re going to change the curriculum, and the Common Core is a K-12, phase it in.”
In his letter, King also highlighted ways to offer smarter testing that includes allowing “students with severe disabilities who are not eligible for the alternate tests to be tested based on instructional level rather than chronological age.”
Moreover, King highlighted, the State Education Department, using Race to the Top funding, will offer grants to local school districts. “Grant recipients would commit to review all local assessment practices to ensure that all local tests help inform instruction and improve student learning,” King wrote.
Many parents and educators said students were tested on information they were never taught last year, which is one of the reasons why the results decreased so drastically. Passing rates in Valley Stream’s four school districts were mostly in the 30 and 40 percent range, far below the 70, 80 and even 90 percent passing rates the districts boasted for years.
“The State Education Department rolled out Common Core curriculum modules as the school year was progressing,” Heidenreich said, “and then tested students on the Common Core standards without students and teachers having had the benefit of being appropriately trained or taught with the Common Core.”