Bill seeks release of state test questions

The "Truth in Testing" law would require public The "Truth in Testing" law would require public release of the state's English and math tests following their administration each spring to students in grades 3-8. Photo Credit: iStock

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Questions on controversial state tests given annually to about 1.9 million students statewide would be subject to new public scrutiny under a proposal being pushed by a veteran Long Island lawmaker.

The "Truth in Testing" law would require public release of the state's English and math tests following their administration each spring to students in grades 3-8.

State Education Department officials so far have maintained that tests generally should be kept secret. One top administrator told Newsday last week that a limited number of questions would be released this summer.

Test secrecy rankled many of the Island's teachers during the assessment round in April because of the difficulty of preparing students for more rigorous tests -- based on new Common Core academic standards -- that no one had seen.

In addition, critical questions have been raised concerning the quality of work done by NCS Pearson Inc., a subsidiary of an international conglomerate that holds a $32.1-million contract to produce and score tests for New York State. Earlier this month, New York City officials who also contract with Pearson threatened to cut ties after scoring errors were found on entrance exams for gifted and talented programs.

Scott Smith, the firm's president of learning assessment, did not return Newsday's call.

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"We've got to see if the test questions are good questions," said state Sen. Kenneth LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), who is sponsoring the measure. "The only way we can find out about that is to have disclosure."

LaValle, who chairs the Senate's Higher Education Committee, is the author of a landmark 1979 law that made it possible for college-bound students to get copies of their SAT questions and answers.

The new measure has bipartisan sponsorship from Catherine Nolan, a Queens Democrat who chairs the state Assembly's Education Committee.

"Truth in Testing" would require release of test questions 30 days after each annual administration. A limited number of questions needed to "anchor" future tests would be excluded from the requirement.

In addition, the Education Department would be required to report each year on the fairness and appropriateness of test items, the correlation between test scores and grade-point averages of students, and other assessment issues.

Ken Wagner, the department's associate commissioner for curriculum and assessment, told Newsday on Thursday that the agency plans this summer to release enough questions to give teachers and others a "feel" for the tests "while protecting the integrity of the program."

Wagner said full disclosure of tests would require additional testing of students to gauge the validity of questions intended to be used in the future. This practice -- known as "field testing" -- is a sore point with many teachers and parents, who complain that students are taking too many exams.

"We don't see the bill as necessary," Wagner said of LaValle's proposal.

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The proposal, however, drew praise from local educators and national testing critics alike.

"Teachers need a feedback mechanism, so they know what the assessments look like," said Sean Feeney, principal of The Wheatley School in Old Westbury and president of the Nassau County High School Principals Association.

Bob Schaeffer, public education director of FairTest, a nonprofit watchdog group that monitors testing nationwide, said passage of the measure could encourage other states to push disclosure as well.

"Hopefully, it will serve as a model for the nation," Schaeffer said.

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