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Educators slam NY test errors

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) Photo Credit: Newsday/Audrey C. Tiernan

Three mistakes on the New York State assessment tests discovered in the span of a week have educators wondering whether the exams should be used to evaluate teachers.

Educators from across the region signed an open letter to the Board of Regents on Monday about the slip-ups, calling them "the latest bungle in the so-called school reform movement in New York State."

State officials called the errors "routine," saying they do not take away from the tests' credibility or effectiveness in measuring teacher success. State law mandates that student achievement -- measured in part by state test scores -- make up between 20 percent and 40 percent of a teacher's rating.

A confusing passage in a short story about a pineapple and a hare in an eighth-grade English Language Arts exam gained nationwide attention last week and the related questions won't be counted on the test.

Schools were notified earlier this week about other typos in fourth- and eighth-grade math.

"Due to a typographical error, there is no correct answer to Question 13 on this test form," the eighth-grade notice read, advising proctors to notify students about the error.

A question on the upcoming fourth-grade math test has two correct answers, school officials were told. Proctors were advised to tell students only if they asked; children will be given credit for either correct answer.

Pearson testing company, which produces the tests, did not return calls.

With more than 30 exams, there are bound to be errors, said state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr.

"It's fairly routine to have the occasional typos despite thorough review by test publishing staff, department staff, panels of New York State educators," he said. "When there is a typo that would affect the outcome of a particular question, the question isn't counted."

But educators on Long Island said the errors undermine the new valuation system.

"The past week has been a nightmare for New York students in grades 3 through 8, their teachers and their principals," reads an open letter from newyorkprincipals.org, a Long Island-based group fighting the new evaluation system. "Not only were the New York State ELA exams too long . . . they contained ambiguous questions that cannot be answered with assurance, problems with test booklet instructions, inadequate space for students to write essays, and reading comprehension passages that defy common sense."

Almost 1,440 principals signed the group's November letter urging the state to slow its implementation of the evaluations.

The new letter was sent to the Board of Regents on Monday evening by email. Sean Feeney, principal of The Wheatley School in the East Williston District, helped craft it and said he had not yet heard back.

"People need to recognize that it's time to really slow down and look at what is happening in the state," Feeney said. "We saw this in the fall. We predicted this."

King said he understands the anxiety but believes teachers should have faith in the tests and in the new evaluation measures.

But Sharon Fougner, principal of E.M. Baker elementary in Great Neck, has just one question for King in light of the errors and length of the tests.

"Have you ever met an 8-year-old?" she said. "If you did, you would understand an 8-year-old is not capable of sitting for 90 minutes without a break engaged in a pencil and paper test."

Don Sternberg, principal of Wantagh Elementary School, said the test's efficacy is in question. "If I as a principal initiated a process like this in my school, I'd be fired," he said. Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said teachers will adapt to the new system, which is mandated by state law.

"This is law in New York State," she said. "I don't see anything happening here that is going to change or prohibit this law from going forward."

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