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Fewer tests is aim of state grants to BOCES districts

A new $9.2 million statewide project aims to reduce the amount of fall "pretesting" conducted by school districts on Long Island and elsewhere -- assessments that many local educators have described as a waste of time.

Nearly $800,000 from that funding will go to the three regional BOCES on Long Island, which will work with dozens of local districts to ease the test burden, the state Department of Education announced Tuesday.

The money is from a 2010 federal Race to the Top award to the state.

"We're really very excited about this grant, because it gives districts a chance to review all the tests they're using and decide whether they need it," said Valerie D'Aguanno, assistant director for curriculum, instruction and technology at Nassau County's Board of Cooperative Educational Services, headquartered in Garden City.

Nassau BOCES will share its $299,986 grant with nine districts in the county to pare back and improve testing programs, D'Aguanno said.

Problems with pretests first emerged with the opening of classes in fall 2012, when schools across the state began testing thousands of returning students to assess their knowledge in a wide variety of subjects, ranging from music to physics.

The idea behind the effort -- part of the state's fledgling teacher-evaluation system, with job performance linked to test scores -- was to establish baseline data on students' levels of knowledge. This in turn was intended to help schools measure how much students learned during the remainder of the school year -- and thus, the effectiveness of their teachers.

The new assessments, however, prompted widespread complaints from teachers and students that it simply did not make sense to try measuring knowledge of subject matter that had not yet been formally taught.

Many schools now are seeking more practical alternatives, and the new state grants will help speed that process, D'Aguanno and other officials said.

Nassau BOCES, for example, is analyzing data from various tests taken at the end of each school year, to see how that data might best be used to establish baselines for comparisons to results on future tests. This, state and local officials said, could eliminate the need for pretesting at the start of the academic year.

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