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Glitches on state math tests irritating, have little impact

Saturday, April 28, 2012
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— One plus one equals two, which was the number of flawed questions on the state standardized math tests that students in grades four and eight took this week.

One question had two correct answers and the other had no correct answer because of a typographical error in the question, according to state Education Department officials. The roughly 400,000 students affected will not be penalized for those errors.

“With over 5 million tests administered each year in New York for 30 different exams, unfortunately typos sometimes happen,” said department spokesman Tom Dunn in an email. “When they do, we always move quickly to inform the schools about a problem with any question.”

State officials will not cite the content of the questions.

Question 58 of the fourth-grade math test had two correct answers. Proctors were allowed to advise students of that fact if they asked. Students will receive credit if they chose either correct answer.

For eighth-grade students, a typographical error caused Question 13 in Form C to have no correct answer. Question 13 is what is called a “field test” question, which is used by SED in trying out different types of material. It doesn’t count toward scores.

The errors were identified following a final review by SED staff and the contractor Pearson Inc., according to Dunn. Notices were sent to the schools. Pearson is in the first year of a four-year, $34 million contract to produce the math and English language arts tests for grades three through eight.

Scotia-Glenville district spokesman Robert Hanlon said the district hasn’t received complaints about the questions. However, there were grumblings that the questions were testing information that is not a required part of the curriculum.

“There’s always that issue every year: Does it match up with what we teach in the classroom?” he said.

In the past it was easier to get an indication of what the state would be asking on the test. However, Hanlon added, the state has joined others in adopting the Common Core standards of what students should learn by the time they graduate high school. “The tests are changing so much now, so teachers don’t have that to guide them during the year,” he said.

Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Central School District spokeswoman Christy Multer said the school received notification that there were some errors on a translated version of the exam that the school doesn’t need. Also, the school didn’t receive the version of the eighth grade test with the error.

Schenectady schools spokeswoman Karen Corona said there have been no issues brought to their attention.

These math errors come on the heels of a problem with the English language arts test earlier this month. The state threw out a section of reading comprehension questions based on a short passage involving a talking pineapple challenging a hare to a race. In the story, which was excerpted from the original version by children’s book author Daniel Pinkwater, the other animals in the forest bet on the pineapple to win because they think the pineapple must have some trick up its sleeve. The hare wins, the other animals eat the pineapple and the moral of the story is “pineapples don’t have sleeves.”

The offbeat story confused students and the state Education Department said it would not count those questions toward student scores.

State officials said the passage was reviewed by a committee of teachers from across the state but it was not designed for New York. It was included in the exam by Pearson Inc., the test vendor, to allow for a comparison between New York students and students from other states.

New York State United Teachers spokesman Carl Korn criticized the state for the recent mistakes.

“Students deserve tests that are reliable and accurate. If we are going to use tests for high-stakes purposes then it is incumbent on the State Education Department to get it right. Our students and our teachers deserve no less,” he said.

The new statewide teacher evaluation system allows state tests to count for as much as 40 percent of a teacher’s score.

Korn added that there is a backlash forming against state testing. Standardized tests have a place, but they should not be overly relied on in education, he said.

New York State School Boards Association Executive Director Timothy Kremer said these seem like silly mistakes that shouldn’t happen with a professional testing company.

“As the stakes become higher and higher and we are relying on this information to make some very critical decisions that are going to effect people’s lives, we need to know that these tests are credible,” he said.

 
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