Annual state testing starts Wednesday for thousands of students in grades 3-8 across Long Island and elsewhere, as school districts scramble to boost academic performance that took a hit during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many districts also are pushing to reduce the number of student opt-outs, and to expand computerization of testing.
“Last year was our first year in which we really had a tremendous student participation, which was very exciting for us,” said Donna Jones, superintendent of Patchogue-Medford schools.
Islandwide, however, only about 60% of eligible students in Nassau and Suffolk counties participated in testing last spring, reflecting effects of the pandemic and of widespread protests against tests by parents who contended that they put too much pressure on their children.
As for computerization, New York State has declared it wants to phase in adoption of universal digital testing by spring 2026.
Schools are employing a variety of approaches to improve test scores, including more small-group instruction and individual tutoring. Just over 40% of the Island’s students who took the state math tests last spring passed them, along with a little more than 50% who passed English Language Arts. Educational leaders cited the pandemic’s disruption of school schedules as a major factor behind the relatively low scores.
In the Patchogue-Medford district, as in many others, administrators said they are redoubling efforts to hone students’ skills such as solving multistep math problems, dealing with geometric shapes, preparing written answers to essay questions, and proper use of vocabulary.
Patchogue-Medford officials added that the drive for better test performance has been accompanied by successful efforts to boost test participation. In March of last year, for example, 2,112 students took state English tests in the district's elementary and middle schools, in contrast to 91 local students who took such tests the previous year.
Because of such improvements, eight schools in Patchogue-Medford that were previously on the state’s needs-improvement lists are being returned to good academic standing, the district announced.
“Once we got the results of that, that enabled us to focus our work very specifically on, how did these students do? What were the areas of strength we saw? What were the areas we probably needed to hone in on to make sure we have an even stronger outcome this year?” Jones said.
Under the state's testing schedule, English assessments will be given over a consecutive two-day period between Wednesday and Friday for students taking exams on paper. Computer-based tests will be scheduled between Wednesday and next Wednesday. The extra time for digital tests allows schools to organize the work in shifts for students in different grade-level groups.
Math testing in paper form will take place May 2-4, while computerized versions will be May 2-9. All testing sessions are untimed.
In addition, all testing will be based for the first time on new Next Generation academic standards. The state adopted those guidelines in 2017 to replace the more controversial Common Core guidelines.
Standards remained much the same after the name change, but there was general agreement that the Common Core name had to be dropped because it was associated with an effort, eventually ended by the state, to rate teachers' job performance largely on the basis of students' test scores.
New York officials acknowledged that the state lags behind most in numbers of students with access to digitized testing. Slightly more than 230,000 students statewide used such assessments last spring, of more than a million eligible for testing.
In Nassau and Suffolk counties, as elsewhere, some districts are ahead of others in the transition to computerization. For example, the Longwood district went fully digital in 2019 and has operated that way ever since. More than 1,200 local students used computers in last spring's testing.
"I would say at this point, it's working out pretty well for us," said Lance Lohman, superintendent of Longwood schools. "All students have Chromebooks, and the good thing we learned from the beginning was the importance of utilizing state-provided digital practice tests and tools."