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: