Wednesday, April 10, 2013

State tests: Why your child should take them

The New York State testing cycle will begin on April 16 with students in grades 3-8 taking English language arts (ELA) tests. The state math assessments will follow beginning April 24.

These tests provide crucial information for teachers as they shape and modify curriculum and lesson plans. Data from these tests (along with other measures our district uses, such as the NWEA tests, classroom participation and performance on assignments) allow teachers and administrators to gauge how students are progressing academically, and ultimately prepare all students to graduate college and career ready. The test results help identify which skills and concepts students are having difficulty understanding so that teachers may offer the appropriate instructional interventions needed to help struggling learners improve.

With the integration of the new Common Core Learning Standards this year and the shift to more rigorous state ELA and math tests, it is understandable that some children may experience a certain amount of stress, which can cause concern for parents. 

Recent media reports suggest a backlash from some educators and parents around the state regarding this year’s standardized tests based on the new learning standards, which they say have been implemented without sufficient time for students or educators to fully adjust to the new material that is being taught and which will be tested. Some have recommended that parents opt out of having their children participate in the testing.

Question of compliance
Whether or not you agree with the state’s testing procedures, discouraging students from taking the tests is not the solution. Right now, the state’s accountability system requires that schools have a 95 percent participation rate in the assessments. An article by the New York State Association of School Attorneys (NYSASA) emphasizes that under current law and State Education Department regulations, student opt-outs from state assessments are not permitted, except in certain circumstances involving students with disabilities.

The NYSASA article, which will appear in the next issue of On Board published by the New York State School Boards Association, outlines potential consequences for students and school districts should participation in state testing fall below the required threshold. If a district does not reach the 95 percent participation rate in its schools, it will not make “Adequate Yearly Progress” (AYP), and that may affect a district’s Title I funding. Schools that do not meet AYP could also face intervention consequences.

More importantly, assessment results let parents and teachers know how students are progressing relative to the new, more rigorous Common Core Learning Standards. When students do not participate, building principals and teachers lose an important tool for helping determine the types of additional academic support individual students need to reach expectations at each grade level.

Preparing our students
I want to reassure parents that our district is now and will continue making every effort to ease any anxiety students might be feeling as the testing dates draw near. Our junior high teachers have been offering review classes for students in grades 7 and 8 in advance of the state math tests. Grades K-8 teachers have also shared tips and strategies during recent Literacy and Math Nights at the elementary school for parents to use at home to reinforce their children’s reading, writing and math skills.

Additionally, our teachers have been preparing for the implementation of the Common Core for the past two years through a combination of internal and external professional development. We continue to work with literacy and math coaches from the Capital Region BOCES and offer 40 minutes of professional development in those subject areas each week for our teachers. The instructional materials and textbooks our students use in the classroom are also aligned to the new Common Core.

During a visit to Watervliet Elementary School last month, New York’s Deputy Commissioner of Education Dr. Ken Slentz explained to parents that the State Education Department anticipates results from this year’s new grades 3-8 assessments will drop, in some cases significantly, compared with prior years because of the more rigorous learning standards. “Skill sets have become more complex and expectations have increased,” Dr. Slentz said, “this does not mean that kids are learning less or teachers are not teaching.” It is important that we all keep this in mind when test scores are released next year.

In the meantime, I ask that you continue to support your children’s participation in the state assessments this year and every year that it is required by the state.