First day of tests goes smoothly

It appears area elementary- and middle-school students weren’t kept home from school any more than u

It appears area elementary- and middle-school students weren’t kept home from school any more than usual Tuesday as the first day of state testing proceeded as planned.

School officials reported their attendance was normal on the first of three days of English language arts tests for students in grades 3-8. These are the first exams based on the more difficult Common Core curriculum, which requires more reading of nonfiction texts and critical thinking.

State education officials are expecting test scores will drop because of the difficulty of the curriculum and the associated exams. Common Core raised standards to reflect what students should know by the time they graduate from high school to be ready for college-level work or a career.

Some parents were considering keeping their children home or having them refuse to take the tests because of concern about the amount of standardized testing.

The Burnt Hill-Ballston Lake Central School District had the usual one to five students out sick per grade, according to spokeswoman Christy Multer. Schalmont Central School District spokeswoman Audrey Hendricks also reported that absences were normal.

The Scotia-Glenville Central School District didn’t have unusually high absenteeism, either, according to spokesman Robert Hanlon. He said one child began the test and said he did not want to continue. However, he changed his mind and completed the test. Another child said he was not taking the test ,and this was confirmed with his parents.

Other districts reported no incidents.

There is no legal “opt out” provision for these tests. School districts must have at least 95 percent of students participate or risk being tagged as a district that has not made adequate yearly progress in academics and requires state intervention.

School officials were making sure their students showed up for school. Tiffany Shephard of Schenectady said her son’s teacher called her that morning to ask if her son was going to be in school.

Her 11-year-old son, sixth-grader Emanuel Goodman of Elmer Avenue Elementary School in Schenectady, said he thought much of the test was easy, except the questions toward the end.

Other students exiting the school reflected on the first day of testing.

“They were harder than last year,” said 11-year-old sixth grader Tyrone Ramdass. “But they were challenging. I like challenges, and I think I did good.”

Still, Tyrone is anticipating the next round of tests April 24-26.

“I think math is going to be harder,” he said.

Devin Brigmohan said he thought the test was easy. He is in third grade, so he had nothing to compare it to.

Sixth-grader Mahalia Holt, 11, kept a positive attitude about the whole thing.

“I think I did OK because I tried hard,” she said.

Schenectady City School District Superintendent Laurence Spring said the administration of the tests went smoothly on the first day. How students did won’t be known for months.

Spring said school officials created some interim tests using a similar format to assess where students were partway through the year.

“That data gave us a pretty good blueprint for what kids needed work,” he said.

Those midyear tests found students at almost every grade level needed to build their skills to take these more difficult tests, according to Spring. Students are not used to being required to read critically, analyze information from multiple sources and write extensively, he said.

“It can sap your energy pretty quickly. We need to condition our kids, just like if you’re going to run a marathon you’ve got to do some training and get yourself ready,” he said.

These tests pose new challenges for students and staff but are generally worthwhile, Spring said.

“Having some accountability measures in place is a good thing for systems,” he said.

The New York State United Teachers union has expressed concern about the state’s emphasis on standardized testing and said students were not adequately prepared because teachers didn’t have materials on the new curriculum. It neither encouraged or discouraged a boycott of the tests.

The New York State School Boards Association clarified its view Tuesday, saying its members are concerned about the amount of state testing but does not support boycotting the testing, citing the potential loss of federal funding if the participation of students taking the test falls below 95 percent, according to spokesman David Albert.

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