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NYS Tests: Has anything really changed?

When I wrote my blog post last year, The Truth about New York State Testing, I thought to myself… if only I could really tell the whole truth about the tests.  As I signed the gag order in 2015, I cringed knowing that I would not be able to discuss the ambiguous questions or perplexing vocabulary my students had to endure over the three day ELA testing period.

Last April, as I read the 6th grade ELA test, I became more determined than ever to continue fighting against these tests.  The 3 day period of testing was obnoxious and overwhelming for my 11-year-old students.  Some of my students took 3 hours to work on the test, and they were still not able to finish.  I watched them try to annotate the text, and then reread the questions to try to determine the best answer.  Some students flipped back and forth, back and forth, multiple times to reread the lines that were being referred to in the questions.  I watched the frustration on some faces as they tried their best to write an essay about an animal that faced challenges.  The essay question itself was not poorly worded as it was pretty straight forward, but the passages that were to be compared were quite challenging and written many years ago.  There is nothing wrong with classic literature, but when there are at least 16 to 20 words in one passage that are extremely difficult, it makes it much more frustrating to comprehend what is being said.

Parents keep wondering what the big deal is about these tests.  Let me tell you.  The big deal is these are not the same type of tests that were given years ago when we were in school.  The current tests are not used to help teachers or students because the information received after the tests are taken is useless and vague. These tests are not the same as the Regents exams the students will eventually take either. Regents exams are based on content taught and more appropriate for the age level.

This year, the 2016 NYS tests have changed.  It could only be for the better, right? Wrong! The state tests this year have changed a bit, but I do not believe for a minute that they will benefit my own children, my students or myself as a teacher or a parent.

No time limit

In my post last year, I wrote about the stress students encountered as they sat and rushed through the passages and questions in order to finish before the timer went off.  This year, according to the state, there will be no time limit. This may sound like a good idea, but now students may be subjected to taking a test for hours on end….as long as they are working productively. Special education students who normally get extended time, will get as much time as needed this year. But, will this help the students or will they become so completely overwhelmed and exhausted that they just shut down? How long will all students be expected to sit and wait for other students to finish the untimed tests? Will testing students be moved to another room after a certain amount of time?  Fortunately, before the big testing week, teachers across NYS will receive instructions on how to administer the tests and proper protocol within each building.

Shorter Tests

The tests have been made shorter according to NYS. But, the length has only been changed minimally.  A few questions have been taken off for each grade level and some students have one less passage to read. I am really hoping that the overall test has not been made more rigorous to compensate for the shorter test and no time limit.

Refusing the Tests

Many parents are struggling with the big question looming over them. Should my children take the NYS tests? I have heard parents asking others for advice and hoping they are making the right decision for their children. This decision is not taken lightly by any parent, and it shouldn’t be. Parents grappling with whether or not their child should take the test need to do what is best for their own child. Every child is different!

My own children will be refusing the tests for numerous reasons. My 4th grader has a learning disability, and I do not feel that it is necessary for him to take a test that is developmentally inappropriate.  It will not benefit him or the teacher.  My children will not take the tests because it goes against everything that I believe in. It suggests to NYS that the tests are age appropriate and can in some way help my children. But that is not what is happening when my children take these tests. I get no useful information on how my children have improved over the course of the year, and my children’s teachers are not able to use the information to actually help my children.

If more parents refuse the tests, it will help NYS see that parents are not happy and want changes made!  Parents want their children to become well-rounded creative problem solvers who can think critically. They do not want their children to be subjected to narrow curriculum and long hours of test prep just to get ready for the NYS tests. Unfortunately, some teachers do not have a choice on whether or not to do test prep. Some schools require students to complete workbook after workbook to prepare for one test that is meaningless. When parents stand up, NYS will start listening….the high number of refusals last year has proven that parents can make a difference!