Teachers, parents and others will be able to air their opinions on the Common Core academic standards via the Internet within the next two weeks or so, state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia told a Long Island audience Friday.
The commissioner, in her fourth month on the job, said students later this school year can expect shorter tests and the beginning of a move toward computer-based exams. In outlining her agenda for promoting higher achievement, she also sought to quiet public unrest over testing and teacher evaluations, which are tied to pupils' exam scores.
"As educators, I'm asking you to decrease the rhetoric on assessments," Elia told 500 school superintendents and others attending a daylong conference on curriculum and leadership issues in Melville.
Assessments should be viewed, she said, as tools to use in a positive way -- to help teachers improve their instruction and help students boost their academic performance.
Major points of her presentation included:
Standards review. The public, particularly educators and parents, will be able to click on the state Education Department's website -- nysed.gov -- and register opinions on the state's academic standards, better known as Common Core.
The parent of a second-grader, for example, could read each standard for a child at that level, then choose to give a response by checking boxes labeled "appropriate," "not appropriate" or the like, and typing in a brief explanation.
Comments will be tabulated and reviewed by a panel of academic experts, and recommendations for any changes in standards would be submitted to the state Board of Regents, which sets education policy.
Testing. State assessments in grades three through eight will be shortened for the next round of testing in April.
Precise time lengths of the new tests have not yet been set. The overall plan includes elimination of four multiple-choice questions in math tests at each grade level, along with elimination of a reading passage and an essay question in each English language arts test.
Computer-based exams. School districts on Long Island and elsewhere are being asked to volunteer for participation in trials of computerized tests starting this spring.
The trial runs will involve only "pilot" tests used to assess the validity of questions to be used in future exams, so any problems raised by computer malfunctions will not count against students' records. The goal, Elia said, is to phase in computer-based testing gradually, making the new system fully functional by 2020.
The commissioner, who was applauded several times, acknowledged high degrees of concern voiced on Long Island over the state's policy of tying students' test scores to teacher job evaluations. The Regents have directed the commissioner to review this issue in coming months.
In April, parents of more than 70,000 students in grades three through eight in Nassau and Suffolk counties pulled their children out of state math and English tests -- the highest number of opt-outs for any region in the state.
Roger Tilles of Great Neck, who represents the Island on the Regents board, introduced Elia at the conference as a leader who has taken on an "immense" task.
Tilles later told a reporter that, if the State Legislature does not amend the state's testing and teacher-evaluation laws before the next round of testing, "I think the number of opt-outs could increase."