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State Education Department releases test questions

Students in a ninth-grade algebra class on May

Students in a ninth-grade algebra class on May 1, 2013, at Center Moriches High School. Credit: Heather Walsh

The state Education Department Wednesday released half the questions from its 2014 assessments for third- through eighth-grade students in an effort to help schools better prepare them for the exams, which reflect the controversial Common Core academic standards.

The state released just 25 percent of the test questions last year, officials said.

Common Core, created with the goal of making students college- and career-ready, was adopted by more than 40 states and is being hotly debated across the country, with some educators saying the approach is far too advanced.

The related tests are currently administered to students in third through eighth grades in both English Language Arts and mathematics.

Last school year, thousands of Long Island children refused to sit for the exams, with parents, teachers and even some administrators questioning their validity and necessity.

Some local politicians, including state Sens. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and John J. Flanagan (R-East Northport), and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, have called for delayed implementation or a reduction in Common Core testing.

Education Commissioner John B. King Jr., in a tour of the state last year, heard from thousands of angry parents who said their children were buckling under pressure. Wednesday's release was in part to help ease their concerns.

The English exams consisted of long passages followed by multiple-choice questions and prompts for written responses of varying length.

An eighth-grade math test asked students to calculate the total volume of all the tanks in an aquarium given a certain set of data; a sixth-grade math question asked children which equation is true when n = 4. The answer: n + 3 = 7.

Sean Feeney, principal of The Wheatley School in Old Westbury, said that while he's glad for the release, it doesn't address a central problem with the tests.

"Clearly, it is helpful," he said, but educators are "deeply concerned about how the assessments are being used in terms of the evaluation of teachers, principals and schools."

Anna Hunderfund, superintendent of the Locust Valley school district, said "it's always better" to have more information.

"The criticism that everyone has against the state is that it's like throwing darts in the dark," she said. "This was rolled out so quickly, with no guidance."

Kishore Kuncham, superintendent of Freeport schools, said the release could be helpful for his students, many of whom are poor or are English language learners who struggled with the tests.

But it could have come earlier, he said.

"I would love to have everything come out by June," Kuncham said. "That would give us two solid months to make some changes."

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