Educators: Kids exhausted by new exams

An eighth grade student with a New York

An eighth grade student with a New York State English Language Arts test booklet. Photo was taken after the testing was completed. (April 17, 2012) (Credit: Newsday/Audrey C. Tiernan)

With state testing under way, many younger students appear to be exhausted by this year's longer exams and unable to complete their work effectively, Long Island school officials reported Tuesday.

English testing began in grades three through eight Tuesday and will continue Wednesday and Thursday, with a maximum four hours, 30 minutes allowed for completion over the three days. That includes 90 minutes allotted Tuesday.

"They just didn't have the stamina for it," said Peggie Staib, assistant superintendent for curriculum in the Connetquot district, which serves communities in Islip Town.

Last year's state English tests allowed a total of two hours, 50 minutes or less for completion, depending on grade level.

Islandwide, more than 200,000 students in public schools are taking tests required by the federal No Child Left Behind law. Math testing will be held April 25-27.

This year's testing has extra significance because results will be used by the state for the first time in its new job-performance ratings of teachers and principals. Job evaluations, which will include input from local districts, are due Sept. 1.

State Education Department officials said students generally should be able to complete tests in far less than the maximum times allowed, and that this year's extensions are meant to lessen pressures associated with racing against the clock.

In English testing, the state estimates that a total of three hours or less over three days should be sufficient for most students to finish.

Preliminary reports from districts such as Amityville, Connetquot, Jericho, Oceanside and Rockville Centre suggest that many 8- and 9-year-olds are having trouble completing the tests, which include more multiple-choice questions and essays than those used in the past.

According to Staib, Connetquot's seven elementary schools reported that substantial numbers of younger students, tired after 45 minutes or so of testing, were simply filling in the remainders of their answer sheets at random -- a reaction known as "bubbling."

Tony Sinanis, a principal at Cantiague Elementary School in Jericho, observed a similar response by some third-graders there.

"We're noticing that they're getting the same types of questions wrong at the end of the test that they got right at the beginning," Sinanis said. "Stamina becomes an issue."

Ken Slentz, the state's deputy commissioner for elementary and secondary education, said his agency would survey local districts through next week, to see how testing worked out.

Slentz acknowledged recent complaints by teachers and parents that 90 minutes of daily testing seems excessive, but added that extra time allotments were in response to previous complaints that test-takers were rushed.

"Our intention was to take the time pressure off students -- and that's being done in other states as well," the deputy commissioner said. "In general, I think it's important for folks to understand that our objective was to give students the maximum time to show what they know and are able to do."

In upper grades, many teachers and students agree that extra time could prove helpful, especially for essay writing.

"We're hoping students will take time to check their work, proofread before turning it in," said Rose Scalera, an eighth-grade English teacher at Jericho Middle School.

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