Friday, March 31, 2017

Fred Smith in WAPO: What N.Y. parents should know about 2017 Common Core standardized tests

Four passages that are well above grade level with 6 multiple choice questions most of which require that a student go back into the text and the answer is still difficult to figure out is ridiculous. Kids were twitching. Two of mine cried. I administered to 7 children with reading disabilities. They didn’t stand a chance. It makes me angry. I spent all year inspiring them to feel excited about learning and confident and in 10 minutes NYS made them feel like idiots…. Anonymous,


Fred Smith, a testing specialist and consultant, explains how the state is attempting to persuade parents not to opt-out, and what students face when they sit down to take the exams. Smith is retired as a senior analyst for the New York City public schools and a member of Change the Stakes, a parent advocacy group.




Seeking to turn back the opt-out movement, authorities are promoting a few scripted points to convey the idea that the testing program has been improved for 2017: The number of questions on the exams has been reduced, more teachers have been involved in developing them, and the tests are untimed.

On the surface these seem attractive. But fewer items make less reliable tests. The teachers who were involved reviewed but didn’t write the questions on the tests, which were created by Questar Assessment (which is being purchased by the Educational Testing Service, or ETS). And the removal of time limits means the tests are no longer being conducted under standard conditions, thereby nullifying attempts to measure growth.

Effectively, the results of the 2017 exams cannot be used to make meaningful comparisons over time, though the Education Department says the tests aren’t being changed enough so that comparisons will be valid.

Another selling point the state makes is that while the tests will continue to be given, no teachers or principals will be affected by the results as in the past, when test scores were factored into their evaluations. The state has declared a moratorium on directly linking student test scores to teacher evaluations. This may lull people concerned about the misuse of the tests into accepting their administration because negative consequences have diminished for teachers and principals, but the results can still affect schools, and the scores can be used as an “advisory” evaluation measure for individual educators.

In announcing the improvements, a department spokesperson said, “It’s up to parents to decide if their children should take the tests and we want them to have all the facts so they can make an informed decision.”

Really? There is no information on opting out — or about the field testing of questions, which allows publishers to develop future exams for free by trying out test questions on children — on the one-page document posted on SED’s Engageny , titled “2017 Grades 3-8 New York State Assessments: What Parents Need to Know.”  Evidently, they must know the tests are untimed, shortened, reflective of teacher involvement and will be given in some districts by computer.

Here are some more facts about  field testing on the 2017 exams that parents aren’t being told:

There are two approaches publishers follow to develop questions and determine which should be kept for subsequent exams.  The preferred way is to embed try-out material (reading passages and associated questions) in the test booklets that students are striving to complete.  In theory, students can’t tell which questions are experimental and do not count in scoring their tests from the operational ones that count.  Thus, they should be motivated to do well on the trial items.

1 comment:

  1. I have never met anyone better than Fred at taking "complicated" stuff and making it accessible to folks who don't specialize in the material.

    The testing process--how tests are made, scored and used--is really important for teachers to understand and props to Fred for helping all of us understand it.

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