Regents to shorten time limits on state tests

Leaders at the New York State School Boards Leaders at the New York State School Boards Association calculate that 84 percent of districts in Nassau and Suffolk counties would have less aid in 2014-15 as compared with the figures six years ago. Photo Credit: Heather Walsh

advertisement | advertise on newsday

The state Board of Regents, with testing policies drawing increasing public outcry, is shortening the time that students will have to take next spring's standardized tests but not the tests themselves. Some local educators dismissed the action as meaningless and counterproductive.

The Regents Monday approved plans to trim 20 minutes from the total time scheduled for math assessments that are to be given in April to hundreds of thousands of students on Long Island and statewide. Testing time for some state English Language Arts tests will be trimmed by a total of 10 minutes, officials said.

Estimated times for the tests' completion last spring ranged from 150 to 170 minutes, spread over three days. Exact times depended upon grade levels.

State Education Department officials said a check of last spring's records showed the large majority of students completed exams in less time than they were allotted. Reducing the time means fewer students will sit at their desks with nothing to do, they added.

Educators and parents in some school districts also complained of the effects of days of lengthy test-taking, particularly on younger children.

But local school leaders challenged the reasoning behind Monday's action, saying many students grew anxious when they could not complete unfamiliar new test questions within the time allowed. Passage rates plunged more than 40 percent because of changes in cutoff scores and the addition of revised questions based on rigorous new Common Core academic standards.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

"I think it's a meaningless response," said Roberta Gerold, president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association and superintendent of the Middle Country school district. "Shortening the tests or lengthening the tests, they're still tests that cause anxiety."

The Regents' move came as a statewide Siena College poll showed that 52 percent of respondents think there is too much testing in public schools. Twenty-eight percent said the amount of testing is right and 12 percent said it is not enough. The poll, released Monday, had an overall margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, asked about the poll's results at a Staten Island appearance, said the State Legislature may take action on testing policy during its upcoming session, and noted that he does not control the Regents' actions.

State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr., who has fielded loud complaints regarding testing policies at forums on the Island and elsewhere in the state, said Monday he "will continue to seek ways to make sure that children are protected from more testing than is necessary." The commissioner reports to the Regents.

Regents also tentatively approved a plan that would shorten state tests themselves in spring 2015 by reducing the number of "trial" questions included in each battery.

Trial questions commonly included in standardized tests are not scored immediately, but used to check on the validity of using such questions, for real, in future assessments.

To cut down on trial questions, the Regents would request about $12 million in extra funding from the legislature. The money would allow the Education Department to increase the versions of each test administered from four to about 10, thus reducing the number of trial questions required for inclusion in any one version of the tests.

State education officials said the addition of more test versions would bring New York closer to the practices of states such as Florida and Texas, which they said use dozens of versions of the same test.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

A final Regents vote on whether to seek the additional funds is due next month.Several of the 17 board members voiced rising unease over protests by parents and teachers about testing policy, expressed at recent forums in East Setauket, Mineola and elsewhere.

Some agreed with King that school districts should take more initiative in reducing the number of tests used locally. The commissioner's aides pointed to what they consider the positive example of districts such as Herricks, which sharply reduced the amount of pre-testing done in the fall to determine students' "baseline" knowledge.

"Sometimes it gets a little tiresome to take all the responsibility for change," said Anthony Bottar of Syracuse, the board's vice chancellor. "Local leaders have to do their job as well."

Other board members said the state should pay more attention to parents' pleas for slower introduction of new tests based on Common Core standards. Otherwise, these critics said, the state risks losing public support for the national standards even though most academic experts endorse their quality and almost all states have accepted them.

Roger Tilles of Great Neck, who represents the Island on the board, said he worries about ebbing support among parents who favored the standards. "I'm very afraid that we're in danger of losing the positive," he said.

You also may be interested in: