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2018 state tests: Fewer days, more computers

2018 state tests: Fewer days, more computers

The districts are not jumping straight to districtwide computer testing; they are starting with a few grades
2018 state tests: Fewer days, more computers
Photographer: Shutterstock

Students will be welcomed back to school this week with an annual rite of passage: state testing.

But this year's tests will look a little different than in past years, as the state moves from three days of testing to two, and districts across the state begin transitioning to more widespread use of computer-based testing.

The English Language Arts tests for students in third through eighth grades begin this week, with the computer testing beginning Tuesday and traditional paper tests to be given Wednesday and Thursday. The state math tests are scheduled to start May 1. 

Computer-Based Testing

Students in more than a dozen districts across the region will take their annual state tests on computers this year. The following districts will be conducting at least some computer testing this spring, according to the state Education Department: 

  • Ballston Spa
  • Cobleskill-Richmondville
  • Edinburg
  • Galway
  • Guilderland
  • Johnstown
  • Middleburgh
  • Mohonasen
  • Schenectady 
  • Scotia-Glenville
  • Shenendehowa
  • South Colonie
  • South Glens Falls
  • Saratoga Springs
  • Wheelerville 

The districts are not jumping straight to districtwide computer testing; they are starting with a few grades. State officials have indicated a desire to increase the number of schools delivering the annual tests on computers, potentially administering computer-based tests statewide as early as 2020.

As state officials and educators explain it, the benefits of computer testing are simple: the results can be turned around faster -- a big issue for teachers who now don't see test results until the school year is over -- schools have less to worry about in securing physical test materials, and in the longer run computerized tests will be able to "adapt" in real time to students for better results.

But educators are still uncertain how students will transition to computer testing. While most schools already do at least some kind of computer testing to track students' progress, it's not clear how students will respond to the switch from paper to computerized tests -- particularly in math -- and whether their basic computer skills will become a hindrance to test performance. Moving to computer testing also heightens technical challenges and forces schools to maintain strong computer networks.

Ballston Spa was one of a handful of districts statewide to start computerized testing last year -- and one of the only schools in the Capital Region. But more districts this year plan to give tests on computers, with the same questions as paper tests.

In Schenectady schools, fifth-graders at Woodlawn Elementary and sixth-graders at Mont Pleasant Middle School will take their ELA tests on computers, district spokeswoman Karen Corona said. Students in fifth through eighth grades at Mohonasen will take computer tests for ELA, but none of the district’s students will take math tests on computers this year, spokeswoman Karen Nerney said. 

Anne Young, director of curriculum and instruction for the Middleburgh Central School District, said fourth-graders there would use computers to take ELA tests this week. Students have had a chance to practice logging in and working through sample questions in the computer lab, where they will be tested, she said. 

“From what we have observed, it’s just a natural progression for our students,” Young said. “They are digital natives.” 

Opt-Outs

Tensions over testing that flared as thousands of parents, upset that the tests were directly tied to teacher evaluations, refused to let their children participate have eased in recent years. Yet opt-out rates have remained high in both local districts and across the state.

Test refusal rates remain in the double-digits for most districts and were greater than 40 percent in some. Few, if any, Capital Region districts last year reached the federal test participation target of 95 percent.

Districts that consistently don’t reach the 95 percent participation mark will be required to “create a plan that will address low testing rates,” under the state’s new school accountability plan. That plan will include an analysis of why a district is failing to reach 95 percent participation and plans for boosting participation. Districts that fail to improve test participation over multiple years risk state officials stepping in to impose their own plan.

Just three districts had 95 percent or more of their students participate on last year’s ELA tests, and participation rates were even lower for math.

District 2015 Test Refusal 2016 Test Refusal 2017 Test Refusal
  ELA Math ELA Math ELA Math
Albany 16% 24% 20% 22% 18.6% 20.3%
Amsterdam 29% 42% 31% 38% 20.2% 21.6%
Ballston Spa 25% 32% 27% 29% 23.6% 25.5%
Broadalbin-Perth 22% 31% 26% 29% 25.2% 26.1%
Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake 31% 34% 20% 21% 15.9% 17.8%
Canajoharie 37% 40% 50% 49% 40.0% 41.4%
Cobleskill-Richmondville 28% 34% 16% 22% 14.7% 14.0%
Corinth 20% 26% 19% 22% 11.8% 13.5%
Duanesburg 12% 14% 11% 12% 11.4% 12.5%
Edinburg 14% 33% 13% 30% 0.0% 5.6%
Fonda-Fultonville 29% 36% 22% 26% 20.0% 20.8%
Fort Plain 31% 38% 27% 36% 20.8% 23.5%
Galway 19% 30% 27% 28% 27.1% 28.6%
Gloversville 31% 44% 33% 41% 27.5% 31.6%
Guilderland 18% 21% 21% 22% 18.1% 17.6%
Johnstown 26% 33% 19% 21% 11.6% 14.8%
Matfield 34% 40% 18% 22% 16.5% 22.2%
Mechanicville 26% 31% 20% 13% 20.2% 24.3%
Middleburgh 24% 36% 36% 38% 24.0% 24.1%
Niskayuna 11% 13% 10% 12% 8.0% 7.6%
North Colonie 11% 17% 12% 15% 12.0% 13.5%
Northville 14% 24% 9% 15% 10.2% 14.0%
Oppenheim-Ephratah-St. Johnsville 16% 35% 17% 30% 20.7% 25.4%
Rotterdam-Mohonasen 59% 63% 50% 55% 47.5% 51.8%
Saratoga Springs 15% 21% 17% 20% 17.0% 18.7%
Schalmont 33% 38% 30% 34% 27.9% 29.5%
Schenectady 7% 13% 7% 13% 7.1% 10.0%
Schohaire 27% 34% 15% 24% 18.7% 19.0%
Schuylerville 21% 28% 26% 26% 21.0% 21.3%
Scotia-Glenville 34% 39% 39% 39% 30.4% 31.1%
Sharon Springs 22% 26% 14% 18% 10.9% 23.7%
Shenendehowa 20% 25% 22% 24% 21.0% 20.7%
South Colonie 27% 34% 25% 27% 19.1% 22.4%
South Glens Falls 12% 17% 14% 16% 12.0% 14.1%
Stillwater 14% 21% 17% 21% 16.8% 16.5%
Troy 8% 15% 8% 11% 2.6% 3.5%
Waterford-Halfmoon 44% 52% 40% 43% 34.6% 40.2%
Wheelerville 10% 13% 8% 7% 2.5% 2.4%

From break to tests

For some districts, the tests are not ideally scheduled, as students return to school after spring break.

Schenectady Superintendent Larry Spring said many students in the district need time to get back into their routines, after being away from school for multiple days. That process takes longer for some students than for others, but he said he thinks having the tests the week after break will play at least a small role in how students perform. 

“When they come out of recess, there is an element of recovery that has to go on -- dealing with whatever it was they were dealing with when they didn’t have the routine of school,” Spring said. “You are not getting 100 percent of what you hope to be getting.”

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