Students from the third through the eighth grade across the Saugerties schools will notice a number of changes to their annual round of standardized tests this year, all of which have been characterized by the New York State Education Department (NYSED) and local school officials as positive. In a letter to parents and guardians earlier this month, schools superintendent Seth Turner outlined the changes.
Perhaps the most significant change is the reduction of testing days for each exam from three to two. “This change allows students to spend less time taking tests and have more instructional time in the classroom,” wrote Turner.
Other changes include shorter, untimed tests, giving students a greater chance at success without worrying about the clock ticking on the wall. “They’re making it so there’s less stress for the kids, but it’s still going to be beneficial in supplying the valid and reliable data that they need,” explained Darlene Westinghouse, the district’s assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction, assessment and data.
Also new is that students with a reading accommodation in their Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan can have the test read to them.
Unlike in the recent past, student test results will not be included in teacher evaluation scores.
Westinghouse called the statewide changes “really excellent.” “They’re trying to work with the districts in the state, and the parents, families, and communities to make these tests better for the kids,” said Westinghouse. “They went out and gave a whole bunch of surveys to parents, teachers, administrators, everyone. And based on all of that feedback is the reason they’re trying to comply with the community.”
The English and math test questions have been written and reviewed by hundreds of teachers across the state, allowing for greater connection to the curriculum students are already learning.
For the first time, Saugerties will dip a toe in the digital water by offering computer-based ELA tests for students in grades six through eight, something state education officials are hoping will eventually be offered for all tests in every school.
“The long-term plan is for all schools use CBT [computer-based testing] for annual state tests,” read a fact sheet on the 2018 exams. “CBT has the potential to further reduce the need for stand-alone field tests and make assessments better instructional tools for students with disabilities.”
ELA tests for Saugerties students in grades 3-5 will remain paper-based for the time being, as will math exams. Science tests for grades 4 and 8 will be written, too.
Westinghouse said the computer-based tests will also allow educators to collate data much more quickly, shaping classroom focus to better serve students. “Eventually they’d like every district to go to computer-based testing,” she said. “They can get the feedback quicker. It will reduce scoring time for teachers and enable schools to transition sooner to computer-based testing. There’s a lot of positives about it.”
The questions on the exams will be same across the state no matter how the exams are administered. “Instead of filling in dots on a page, (students) use a computer,” said Westinghouse. “They get the question and click on an answer.”
“The state has really vetted this out,” Westinghouse said. “They’ve got all kinds of scenarios ready. What if the computer goes down while the students are taking the test? Will they have it saved so that the student can pick up right where they left off? They’ve thought of all of this.”
While the state hopes more students will be taking the exams, the Opt-Out movement hasn’t gone away. “While we recognize the important benefits of taking the assessments, we also recognize that some families will continue to have their children not participate in these assessments,” wrote Turner in his letter to parents. “We respect a parent’s prerogative with regard to this issue, but we remind parents that all children should attend school for the entirety of the day. Students who are not participating in the state tests and have notified the building principal in advance will complete teacher assigned work (which may include reading, writing, and/or drawing) in a separate location from those taking the assessments.”z
ELA tests for students in grades 3-5 will be administered between April 11 and April 13. ELA tests for students in grades 6-8 will be administered between April 10 and April 17. Math exams for students in grades 3-5 will be given between May 1 and May 3. And science exams for students in grades 4 and 8 will be given on Monday, June 4.