A photo of a scantron test sheet.

A photo of a scantron test sheet. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

State standardized tests taken next spring by students in grades 3-8 likely will be harder than previous exams -- and more controversial -- because the exams will be based on new national standards that include more readings on provocative topics, state Education Department officials said Monday.

However, the state tests taken by students in at least grades 3 and 4 will be shorter, officials added.

The Education Department's decision to reduce the length of tests for younger students was in response to complaints last spring from schools on Long Island and elsewhere that many youngsters appeared exhausted from testing that lasted as long as 4 1/2 hours over three days.

New York, like most states, this year is phasing in new classroom lessons based on Common Core academic standards, a countrywide initiative of the nation's governors and national education groups.

The standards are regarded as somewhat more challenging than those used by most states, in part because the reading portion will employ more works of advanced nonfiction and the math portion will explore topics in greater depth.

At a briefing for reporters in Manhattan, Ken Wagner, an associate state commissioner for curriculum and assessment, noted the more rigorous Common Core standards are meant to reflect academic skills that students will need to succeed in college and the workplace.

Because of that, "the expectation is that results from those assessments may go down," he said, referring to students' scores on tests to be given in late April. "But we can't be sure until we see the results."

On the Island, schools already are bracing for tougher tests. William Johnson, superintendent of Rockville Centre schools, said that he and his colleagues expect initial difficulties, though they also welcomed the increased emphasis placed by Common Core standards on in-depth studies.

"The Common Core is different and, on the surface, looking to be more difficult until our kids and teachers get used to it," said Johnson, a former president of the New York State Council of School Superintendents. "We're anticipating the kids will be expected to read longer, more complex and, perhaps, more interesting passages."

State education staffers said Monday that detailed test guides should be ready for distribution to local districts and teachers within a month.

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