Tuesday, April 19, 2016

By:  Alice

You can see other writings by Alice here at her blog

Six days of testing in New York State are over. (apart for make-up days.)
I don't want to dwell on the past, but I do want to record some of my thoughts/concerns here in public cyberspace.
Here in New York we have a new Commissioner of Education - MaryEllen Elia. She replaced John King a year ago. (Despite spearheading the destruction of our State's public school system and demonizing teachers, Mr. King received a promotion to the highest Education Office of the Land when Arne Duncan resigned...)
Ms. Elia said she understood there had been serious concerns about the way in which Mr. King had rushed the implementation of new standards and tests of those standards (before teachers had had a chance to learn the standards and before there was new curriculum in place to address the new standards - all this referred to in a bizarre training video about "building a plane in mid-air.")
In an effort to "reboot" the process of education reform in NY, Ms. Elia went on a "listening tour" around the state (more than 20,000 miles of listening she's been know to boast,) to meet with and hear first hand from parents, teachers, administrators, and other interested stakeholders. She claimed she heard our concerns. You can read her words here.
She said she heard the concerns about the tests themselves.
"We brought teachers from across the State to Albany to review every reading passage, word problem, and multiple-choice question on this spring's tests to make sure they're fair. In all, every item has been reviewed by at least 22 educators."
But on the ELA tests my 5th graders took there were questions that had no clear right answer, math questions that required knowing 'the trick" rather than relying on the deep comprehension skills the "Shifts in Instructional Focus" for the new Common Core Standards demand, and please let's not forget about the planning page that was missing entirely. If these tests were reviewed by competent teachers, then there was a flaw in the process that needs serious consideration.
Ms. Elia also heard concerns about the stress the tests caused.
"We reduced the number of test questions and alleviated time pressure for test takers. Students who are productively working will be able to demonstrate what they know and are able to do, even if it takes more time. We're interested in what students know, not how fast they can go."
But Ms. Elia did not consult teachers when she created this response. Many elementary classroom teachers could foresee problems Ms. Elia had apparently not considered - mainly that some children, as young as 9 years old, might end up "choosing" to sit with tests for 3, 4, 5 hours a day and more. (And for a myriad of reasons - to meet expectations, to do their best, to please adults, in response to some diagnosed or undiagnosed anxiety issue, etc.) At a meet and greet session with Ms. Elia that I attended, she refused to give specific details of how "un-timing" tests would work. She seemed to think things would just magically work out. No timing. No pressure. No problem.
Lack of foresight? Lack of collaborative decision making? Lack of authentic interest in real change?
Can un-timing the tests possibly be considered age-appropriate or best practice? Is any test that requires a child to make such a choice (how long to sit for a test) designed in a developmentally appropriate manner? There are so many questions this particular "change" has triggered, I encourage you to read my past (and future) posts on this issue.
I've applied to be part of the committee Ms. Elia is convening to review all the Math Standards. It's a long shot, of course. And while I blog under a pseudonym (spoiler alert) I am who I am, whatever my name.
I do a lot of reading. I came across this quote from Ms. Elia in response to some less-than-favorable reviews of her performance as Hillsborough County Fla. Superintendent prior to moving back to New York.
“The concept of continuous improvement is critical,” Elia said. “That’s my agenda — to work in a constructive way and continually get better.”
Let's all hold her to that lofty goal.

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