Regents move to cut state tests from 3 to 2 days

Broader changes likely on way

Students will be asked to sit for four total days of state math and English tests next spring, down from six total testing days in recent years, if the Board of Regents affirms the move during its Tuesday meeting.

The regents on Monday decided to cut one day from each of the tests, which under federal law must be given to students in third through eighth grades each year. While the board needs to vote again to formally adopt the change, all but two members voted in favor of it at a committee meeting.

The change — which was recommended by a 2015 task force that studied potential changes to state education standards and testing — may lift some of the controversy over the tests, which have been widely panned as a burdensome stressor on students and schools. Parents have expressed that feeling by the thousands as they refused to participate on the tests for the past three years.

As news of the change sifted into the public Monday, parents and advocates who had fought for changes to the test, using their right to refuse them as their most powerful point of leverage, declared at least partial victory.

“Small victory … we still have lots of work 2 do,” the opt-out organization New York State Allies for Public Education tweeted Monday.

Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake parent Tricia Farmer, who for years has criticized the state tests, posted on Facebook: “Unfortunately still based on flawed standards but an improvement to overall testing time.”

The move to cut the number of testing days comes after a series of smaller changes to the tests and during the run-up to potentially sweeping changes to the tests in coming years. By reducing testing days, the results on next year’s test will have limited comparison value to previous years, just as changes two years ago did.

Before voting to reduce test days, the regents wrestled with whether the move could confuse forthcoming efforts for a broader revamp of the assessments.

“I’m still not sure what it is we are attempting to measure,” Regent Judith Johnson said of the tests.

But the vast majority of the regents were ready to cut the testing days and then move forward with the broader discussion about what the state assessments may look like beyond next year.

“We know this is not the end-all, be-all … but we absolutely need to show we are chipping away at this problem,” said Regent Roger Tilles, who represents parts of Long Island, where testing angst and the opt-out movement may be the strongest in the state.

Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said the length of the tests was one factor driving test refusals, but she said the change was intended to help students who have been taking the test as well.

“I don’t know that it’s only looking at just those who refused the test,” Elia said. “Many of them who do take the test have said we think it’s a little long.”

She said teachers and students can expect for the testing days to feel similar to previous years — but with fewer of them.

Regents Lester Young and Andrew Brown abstained from the vote but expressed skepticism about whether it was the right time to cut testing days.

“We have raised so many important questions we don’t have answers to,” Brown said. “It seems to me we all want to get to the same place, and it troubles me that we are moving hastily.”

In 2016, state education officials shortened the length of the tests, removing a few questions, and lifted time constraints, allowing students working productively to take as much time as they needed.

While state and district leaders highlighted these changes as evidence officials were reacting to parent and teacher concerns with the tests, many critics dismissed those changes as too small to really address problems with the tests. 

But every change makes it hard to compare one year’s results to the next. Last year, when the state announced testing results that showed slight improvement, officials warned against “apples-to-apples” comparisons for that reason.

Categories: -News-, Schenectady County

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