Regents OK $2.1M for test reform

One in ten state education tests would be studied for potential instances of cheating under a $2.1 m

One in ten state education tests would be studied for potential instances of cheating under a $2.1 million package of reform measures approved Monday by the state Board of Regents.

State education officials plan to analyze instances where wrong answers have been erased and right answers substituted in their place on English and math standardized tests for grades three through eight, as well as Regents exams.

In addition, the State Education Department is considering prohibiting teachers from grading their own students’ exams starting in the 2012-2013 year.

“It’s important to give some time for schools to plan and to prepare,” said Valerie Grey, chief operating officer of the State Education Department.

These latest changes come following a statewide investigation into test cheating.

In September, the board required that grades three through eight exams be given on the same day across the state and required teachers and administrators to certify that they are following security protocols.

Prohibiting teachers from scoring their own students’ Regents exams will force the state to switch the testing schedule, because it will take a longer time to grade the exams, according to Education Commissioner John B. King Jr.

“It’s not likely going to be possible in many parts of the state to have same-day test scoring,” King said.

Ultimately, the state is looking at administering state standardized tests via computer effective in the 2014-2015 year. However, board members acknowledged that many schools do not yet have the infrastructure to make that happen. King said that Indiana implemented computer-based testing in 2009. The state will have to look at the different technologies for giving computer tests.

King said since New York is part of a consortium of states implementing a similar set of high school graduation requirements, there is the possibility of the state doing joint tests in grades three through 11 in English and math.

Part of the $2.1 million in funding will also be used for the consortium to do a survey of where the state is deficient in its testing procedures.

These changes, including the prohibition against teachers grading their own students’ Regents exams, would make life more difficult for some small school districts.

“We have one U.S. history teacher. Who’s going to score [Regents]?” said Fonda-Fultonville Superintendent James Hoffman.

The district is extremely careful about following security procedures, according to Hoffman. The test papers are kept in locked facilities in the main office and distributed to teachers just before the students come into the room.

All of the students take the same test in the same room with several staff members present, according to Hoffman. Teachers score the tests together in a room and review each other’s work, so one teacher wouldn’t be able to give a student a grade that he didn’t deserve because their colleagues would question why the child was getting such a high score.

“It would be pretty embarrassing to a teacher.”

Shenendehowa Superintendent L. Oliver Robinson said his district doesn’t have teachers supervise students taking an exam in their subject area, so as to avoid even the perception that cheating is a possibility.

Robinson noted how much time the state was spending on test taking — rather than teaching and learning.

“We have literally focused on creating test-taking soldiers rather than instilling an appetite for learning in kids,” he said.

In other business, the Board of Regents is also seeking $10 million from the Legislature for state tests. This includes $7 million for the current cost of the program plus $1.5 million to continue the January Regents, which were restored for 2012 only through a donation by a charity affiliated with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The board also received an update that the state plans to apply in February for a waiver from the requirements of the No Child Left Behind Law.

President Barack Obama announced last month that schools could seek relief from the requirement that all students be proficient in English and math by 2014.

Ira Schwartz, assistant education commissioner, said if the rules are not changed, there will be a “tsunami” hitting the state of more than 2,000 schools not meeting standards.

Schools will still be required to set their own achievement targets but would have more flexibility in achieving those goals, especially for low-performing schools.

Categories: Schenectady County

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