Thursday, April 4, 2019

Déjà vu: 2019 ELA Assessment: Dear Board of Regents

Dear Board of Regents,

I have copied below an email I sent to you almost a year ago, after the 2018 ELA assessment's computer-based testing failures and most significantly, students working for hours on one portion of the test.

Sadly, after a year has passed, the 2019 ELA Assessment shows nothing has changed.  Commissioner Elia promised better assessments and provided talking points that many districts across New York State used to convince families that the tests had value, were improved, and computer-based testing was the future.  Yet, all of those promises fell flat.  Nothing has changed, including Elia's call in 2018 to hold Questar accountable for its problems last year.

At what point do we hold Commissioner Elia responsible for these continued problems with the state assessment system after months of promises? Nothing has changed.

It is time for new leadership in our state education department.

Of most importance, but not getting enough attention, is the continued issue of students, especially our youngest learners, taking hours to complete the ELA Assessment.  As I noted in the email from April of 2018, NYSED and local districts should be compiling data in regards to how long each student needs to complete the assessments.  After another year of students working beyond a reasonable time-frame, I wonder if the leadership of NYSED really wants that data at all.

Some schools still need to complete their ELA assessments due to the CBT delay.  I strongly suggest you visit a school during the testing period and witness firsthand the impact of the current assessment system.

Feel free to reach out to me to discuss my concerns further. 

Chris Cerrone
Springville, NY

Here is the email I sent last year:

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Reduced time for testing? Not so fast.

NYSED and Commish Elia continue to say that the NYS Assessments are of reasonable length, I completely disagree.

Here is what NYSED states are average expected times for completion of the assessments.  Consider the 3rd graders, at age 8, an average time of an hour is completely inappropriate for that age level. 

The reality in a classroom is that the children will be sitting in rows, silent, for much longer.

When NYSED states that testing time is reduced consider the following: 1. Room set up and seating & materials distributed(~15+ minutes) 2. Teachers are mandated to read test instructions verbatim. (~ 20 min)
3. If school is using computer-based testing: student log on to system (5-20+ minutes depending on age & computer glitches- there were many last year) 4. Actual "average" time to complete (60-90 minutes) 5. "Untimed" testing(1.5 hours - 6+ hours)

Minimum 1.5 hours for 8yr olds to sit silently in rows, more if computer testing with minimal glitches. If a third-grade teacher had their students sit silently completing workbooks for 90 minutes that would be educational neglect, yet NYSED allows this practice 4 days .

Regardless of grade level, the NYS assessment system is not age-appropriate just in time alone, add in flawed nature of the test itself, and it is no wonder many families "opt out" of the tests.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

NYSED Debunked 2019

As the NYS Education Department and Commissioner Elia continue to pressure local districts and schools to increase their state assessment participation, we have seen basically the same letter used as communication with families across the Empire State.

Here is the basic version of what we are seeing as schools mirror the NYSED pro-test talking points:

Let's look at each of these bullet points:

  • Involvement of educators in the test development process:
    • This process is very secretive, but we know through conversations with teachers who have served on past test development teams that the testing companies, formerly Pearson, and now Questar have a vested interest in limiting as many changes as possible when teachers are asked to review the questions developed by these corporations.  Remember, these for-profit corporations have invested time and money in creating the assessments.  Teachers who have served on these review groups have told us that they are discouraged from making significant changes or critiques, and ultimately may not know if their suggestions were followed since the assessment review is secretive and the educators sign documents that they cannot reveal test content.  Do we know if the educators actually had an influence on the assessments?
  • Continued untimed testing.
    • On the surface, this sounds like a good idea.  Some students need more time to process and the perfectionists want to triple check their work, so let's give those students more time if they need it.  (IEP/504 students have always received their proper accommodations)
    • Unfortunately, some students, especially in the elementary grades, cannot self-regulate and realize that they need to stop, this resulted in students working an entire school day.  See this post from the 999ers blog about untimed testing experiences.  
  • A move from a three-day to two-day assessment:
    • Will only a small reduction in actual test questions occur as in 2018, meaning NYSED jamming too much into one session occur again in 2019?
    • Are these age-appropriate times for students, especially 8 year-olds in third grade?  If a third grade teacher had their students sitting in rows for over an hour, would that be educational malpractice.  Also, understand that teachers must read the entire NYSED provided instructions, usually around 20-30 minutes with set up.  In addition, if the school is using computer-based testing, it could add another 30-60 minutes of students sitting quietly.  (Some teachers commented last year that their students were already burned out by the time the instructions were read and computers were set up.

    • Field test questions embedded:  NYSED will place Field Test questions into student assessments.  These field test questions are being tried out to see how students respond to see if those questions should be used in future tests.  Your child will not know which questions/reading passages count (operational questions) or are field test questions.  If a student gets frustrated from a "fake" question or two, could it throw off their concentration for the rest of the assessment?

  • Computer-based testing.
    • Using computer based testing as a positive is not a good idea if you are promoting the assessments.
      • Last year was a nightmare across NYS for computer-based testing:
        • Student log-ins failed.
        • Students lost work and had to start over.
          • Both of the above issues caused very long, sometimes entire school-days devoted to the assessments.
      • The computer-based system requires special test-preparation, for students to learn how to use the challenging interface, especially the math tools.
      • Students who took the computer-based assessments in 2018 scored lowered than students who were assessed by paper.

Monday, March 11, 2019

2019 Refusal Letter

Here is a google doc that is a generic version of my family's 2019 Refusal Letter.

You can also visit NYSAPE for other letters and talking points.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

ELA Assessment: Dear Board of Regents,

Dear Members of the Board of Regents,

Thank you for your service as leaders in public education in New York State.  I am writing as a parent of two public school children, a middle school educator near Buffalo for over twenty years, and a school board trustee in rural Springville..  I am also a co-founder of the New York State Allies for Public Education(NYSAPE).

While NYSAPE’s advocacy focus is on how high-stakes testing is harmful to our students and public education in general, I respect that there are different views when it comes to the role the state assessments play in our schools.This past week’s English Language Arts Assessment was a disaster on many levels, that I would imagine would concern even those who advocate for the state assessments. Even the most pro-test educators could not possibly think what occurred this week with the ELA Assessment would be educationally sound for children in the Empire State. 

While the failure of Questar’s Computer Based Testing(CBT) platform received the most attention and headlines,  more focus needs to be on the assessment design.  Commissioner Elia and Chancellor Rosa rightfully put out a statement criticizing Questar for its failure to deliver its contractual obligation to NYSED.  I appreciate and applaud the statement, but hope that the Regents, Commissioner Elia, and the rest of the NYSED leadership will look closer into the more significant issue from this week’s ELA assessment: the length of time many students across New York State spent on the Day 2 of the ELA.  

Educators, parents, and young people from across NYS have raised significant concerns about many students spending an entire school day to complete the Day 2 portion of the ELA test.  This situation reveals a poor design of the assessment.  Why would the assessment place an inappropriate amount of reading and written response questions into one day’s testing?  There are stories from throughout our state about students, not just those with IEP/504 test modifications, using an entire school day to complete the assessment.  This includes students using the CBT platform and paper version, and throughout the tested grade levels.  I have shared three stories below from third grade teachers, two of whom that I know personally, but there are so many more narratives that need to be heard.

Going to an untimed assessment may have had good intentions, but this policy has had unintended consequences.  Most younger students are not capable of self-regulating and some continued to work diligently on the assessment for many hours, without the self-awareness they should just stop.  Students who are the hard-working perfectionists also run into the same problem, that kept pushing through with their assessment, beyond a reasonable timeframe to complete the assessment.  These students just wanted to please their teachers and parents, but at what cost?

I hope that NYSED has required districts to maintain data on how long their students took to complete this week’s exam.  Such information is vital to determine if the assessments were poorly designed and the impact of the “untimed” policy.  

Regardless of your view on the NYS Assessments, this week’s ELA exam requires a call to action for all  stakeholders in our public education system.  The public’s confidence in the NYS Assessments has been eroding for several years, and while NYSED officials and local district leaders have championed the small changes that have occurred, this week showed there is much more work to be accomplished.  

Chris Cerrone

Here are stories from third grade teachers I know personally::

The glitches were a bit of a pain for sure. Lots of logging back in. BUT the  part that broke my heart was that I had kids literally work all day from about 10:00 when we were finally able to get on til dismissal with just a break for lunch. They could obviously get up and take a bathroom break, etc. but the test took them that long. Six short response and one extended is far too much for third graders in one day. That's my take on it. It broke my heart to see kids working that long and trying so hard. One even asked me if he could go back the next morning to finish! I am so proud of my kids but this is too much!!

Problems that occurred: 

Students could not login (some tried as many as 13 times before getting on which too up to 1/2 hour for some). 

Once students were able to login, the system spun  and spun for long periods of time.

Once students were able to login, the system bounced them out and they had to retry again and again.

The students could not submit the test because it read "off line" and we had to wait for the system to go back online.

The login user id's and passwords were too long  for 3rd graders ( up to 9 digits -mixed letters and numbers)

when the system was paused to allow the students to eat lunch (because day 2 of the test was unfairly too too long) we had the same login problems all over again)

From a nearby third grade teacher:

Today was a nightmare! We started at 9:30 and finally had to shut it down at 2:30, even though some children were still not finished. We did stop for specials, snack and lunch. We split classes up and moved kids around all day because of the logistics of where to go. No third graders got ANY instruction today. The entire day was the test. Those that did finished were able to read...but couldn't physically stare at another word! The passages and the questions were the worst I have ever seen. The crying and the looks from my kids are forever imprinted in my heart. How could I do this? We had the lowest number of opt outs this year, The letter parents received from the superintendent was unfair and misleading. Many parents are new to testing (thirds grade is the first year for the tests) and don't even know anything about it. I hear people saying it was the two days that made it so difficult. I promise you...given a full week would not have made a difference. Adults don't speak about literature in relation to how paragraphs effect each other...8 year olds certainly don't. I'm beyond I know my students are as well! We need to stop this madness!!!!!

You can contact the Board of Regents via email with your stories or concerns:

Monday, April 9, 2018

Tardy excuse note for Opt Out

If your child will be going in late during the state testing if their school will be starting the assessments first thing in the AM,  and if you are able to keep your child home, here is a note you can use for the tardiness.

Feel free to use as is or modify.
Go to "File -- Download as" to download or if you have a google account- "File -- Make A Copy" to edit in google docs.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Op-Ed: Opt Out provides a vision for Public Education

The opt-out movement is not just about refusing to take a test, but, instead, offering a vision for public education that rejects a focus on assessment skills, workbooks and teacher-centered classrooms. Families who boycott yearly standardized tests instead advocate for student-centered learning and creative activities that include hands-on and real-world simulations. Imagine every classroom and school system engaging students, to promote imaginative, higher-order thinking that goes well beyond the narrow scope of a test-focused education system. These are the skills our children need to truly be ready and flexible to meet a rapidly changing world as they graduate.

Please read the rest of my opinion piece here.