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School officials seek permission to use alternative tests

With the state's testing system under attack, five Long Island school superintendents think they know a better way.

The local school chiefs are seeking state permission to use alternative tests developed by the Northwest Evaluation Association, a nonprofit agency based in Portland, Ore.

Because such tests are computerized, scores can be tallied almost instantly. That's in contrast to the state's own tests for grades 3-8, which were administered in May, with results released only Wednesday.

Those results showed declines in proficiency rates - much to the annoyance of local educators, who say they have no way now of expanding remedial tutoring in time for September classes.

"We believe the NWEA gives us more information and better information and . . . teachers don't have to sit around waiting for results," said William Johnson, superintendent in Rockville Centre, a district involved in the push for alternative testing. Other participants are East Williston, Freeport, Herricks and Hicksville.

Proponents see other advantages in NWEA's approach. Because tests are taken electronically, there's less chance for cheating. Also, tests are "adaptive" - meaning that students answering one level of questions correctly move automatically to higher levels with less repetition.

State education officials haven't formally responded yet to the proposal. But they suggest there might be obstacles, including New York's recent agreement to join a consortium of states in developing new tests.

Still, state officials hold out hope that features of NWEA testing might be incorporated in any new system.

"The process is easier and cost-efficient, and results seem more thorough," said Roger Tilles of Great Neck, who represents Long Island on the state Board of Regents. "But it's going to take a little studying."

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