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Common Core math, English test questions are released

A fourth-grader at Ulysses Byas Elementary School in

A fourth-grader at Ulysses Byas Elementary School in Rooosevelt takes the Common Core math exam on the first day of three days of mathematics testing, on April 13, 2016. Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

The state Education Department on Wednesday released 75 percent of the questions on Common Core tests given in April to students statewide in grades three through eight — up from 50 percent of questions made public last year — and pledged that more information will be given in years to come.

Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa appeared eager to assure teachers and parents that the department is trying to be transparent about exams that have been the target of a record-setting boycott movement, both on Long Island and statewide.

Hundreds of English language arts and math questions, along with answers and score sheets, were posted on the website engageny.org.

Both of the officials noted that the questions and other information were released earlier than in the past to give educators a chance to review questions and answers before the end of the school year later this month. Items from last year’s state tests were not made public until early August.

“I heard from many educators that the earlier they receive the data, the better,” said Elia, who has crisscrossed the state talking to local school administrators and others since taking office in July. “Our goal is to provide our teachers, administrators and parents with as much information as possible about their students’ performance and make it available as quickly as possible.”

Elia thanked state lawmakers for providing an additional $8.4 million in test-development funding — action she said allowed the department to release additional questions.

Educators and parents have complained about secrecy surrounding Albany’s testing program since the first new assessments based on national Common Core academic standards were administered in spring 2013. School personnel have been banned from discussing specific questions, however controversial, immediately after the exams were given, on grounds that would violate copyright laws.

Initial reactions to Wednesday’s release were strongly positive, though teacher representatives and others who have criticized state testing in the past continued to press for full public posting of all questions.

“This is a move in the right direction, reflecting the change in leadership on the Board of Regents,” said Jeanette Deutermann, a North Bellmore parent and chief organizer of Long Island Opt Out, a grassroots test-boycott movement.

In April, at least 89,036 students in grades three through eight in Nassau and Suffolk counties refused to take the state’s English language arts tests — the second consecutive year of unprecedented boycotts. That figure came from a Newsday survey that obtained responses from 108 of the region’s 124 school districts. Nearly 88,000 students in 106 districts opted out of the state math test, according to a separate Newsday survey about that exam.

Deutermann and other parent boycott leaders across the state were early supporters of Rosa for the chancellor’s position on the Board of Regents, which oversees the Education Department and sets the state’s overall policy on testing and other education issues.

Rosa, of the Bronx, has been a consistent critic of state assessments and their use in evaluating teachers’ job performance. She took over as the Regents leader in April.

“I’ve always said that assessments must be diagnostic, valid, reliable, and provide timely and practical information to teachers, parents, administrators and students,” the chancellor said. “The early release of a greater percentage of test questions improves the overall usefulness of these assessments as learning tools — which has always been the goal.”

Carl Korn, a spokesman for New York State United Teachers, a statewide union umbrella group, also welcomed the release of more test data.

“It represents progress,” said Korn, whose union group represents 600,000 teachers and other school workers on the Island and statewide. “But we reiterate our call for 100 percent release of test questions. The only way to restore trust in the state’s testing system is to let educators and parents see all the questions and judge for themselves whether the questions are fair and appropriate.”

Union-appointed experts reviewed exam items released last year and concluded that the great majority were valid measures of student achievement and age-appropriate for those tested. Those experts noted, however, that they could not be certain that questions reviewed were representative of all items on the tests because of the limited release.

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