By Nicole Garcia, MS.Ed., Educational Advocate
In New York, this week, students in grades 3-8 will take their English Language Arts and Math. As the testing season begins, the routine of school changes. The introduction of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) has created even angst and frustration. Governor Cuomo’s new accountability measures for teachers have created even more pressure for teachers and principals. Many parents believe that there exists too much emphasis on state testing. To help you navigate issues surrounding state testing for your child, we have provided some background.
The No Child Left Behind Act
In January 2002, President George W. Bush signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), which represented a re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (“ESEA”). NCLB required all states to develop assessments tests in basic skills to receive federal funds. School districts must administer assessments to all students (on selected grade levels) or risk losing federal funding. NCLB expanded the federal role in public education and increased accountability for teachers and schools. Students must be tested in science at least one grade in elementary, middle and high school. Depending on which state, testing occurs from February through April. NCLB is overdue for re-authorization (since 2007) and Secretary Duncan has proposed a blueprint, but Congress has not reauthorized the law yet.
New York Adopted Common Core State Standards as NCLB Assessments
Every state, including New York, has put in place testing and standards in core subjects to comply with NCLB requirements. For ELA and math, New York, like most other states, adopted the CCSS in 2010 and first implemented the CCSS exams—as the NCLB assessments– in the Spring of 2013. The CCSS aspire to create a “common core of standards that are internationally benchmarked, aligned with work and post-secondary education expectations, and inclusive of the higher order skills that students need…” Essentially, the tests are aligned to prepare students for the skills measured by the ACT and SAT and prepare them for a globally competitive marketplace. Yet, in New York, students had to take the CCSS with little preparation and most teachers did not receive training, the first year that the tests were given. Only 33% of students in New York State achieved proficiency.
Supporters of the CCCS assessments believe the test provides a measure of accountability for what goes on in the classroom, as well as greater rigor. The more rigorous standards help students meet basic proficiency levels and to achieve skills to become “college and career ready.” Supporters also believe teachers will perform to ensure that children will be prepared and score well on the state test.
But many parents and educators have been highly critical of the exams. They have observed that scores do not convey additional portions of the curriculum and do not include measurement of progress in enrichment programs. Critics contend that the tests do not measure whether a student is learning critical thinking skills or how engaged students are in the learning process. Teachers have little time for other subjects. Recent accountability measures for teachers have exacerbated this pressure. Also, many parents are concerned that teachers “teach to the test” and must necessarily eliminate enriching opportunities and creative lessons from the curriculum. More information about the CCSS can be found on the New York State Education Department website.
Most School Accountability Measures Have Been Waived in New York
In the past, schools and school districts that did not show students making adequate yearly progress (“AYP”) toward achieving proficiency could be subject to federal sanctions (e.g., offering school choice, loss of federal funds, possible complete restructuring of the school, or closing the school). In 2012, President Obama waived most of these sanctions for approximately 32 states, including New York. Yet each state still holds schools accountable for results. Test scores provide an indication of how students are performing and are reported by State Department of Education to compare groups of students from year to year.
New York State Alternative Assessment
Children with the most severe cognitive disabilities, as set forth in their Individualized Education Programs (IEPS), may take alternate assessments. In New York, students with alternate assessments on their IEP take the New York State Alternate Assessment (NYSAA). Students with severe cognitive disabilities may demonstrate their performance toward achieving the New York State P-12 CCSS in English language arts and mathematics on the NYSAA.
The Committee on Special Education (CSE) for each student will determine eligibility for participation in the NYSAA. Only a very small percentage of students should take alternative assessments. More information about NYSAA is available on the state education website at: http://www.p12.nysed.gov/assessment/nysaa/.
What Can Parents Do?
- Know when and what testing will be offered. Don’t ignore the obvious step of understanding when and what testing your child will be taking. Testing begins this week in New York in Grades 3-8. School calendars should indicate when the tests are administered. In grades 3-8, each child will take the English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics assessments. Children will also take Science and Social Studies assessments, in fourth and fifth grades and may again take it in eighth grade. Speak with your teacher in the beginning of the year to find out.
- Reassure your child to prevent stress. Parents should keep their children calm and prevent any stress and anxiety. The CCCS assessments should not be a primary or major factor in any promotion decisions, so parents should reassure their children.
- In the fall, ask for an information session on the test and the results from the prior year. Because New York State does not release the results of assessments to school districts and parents until the following school year, many parents may forget to follow up. When you receive the assessment results, ask the school principal to hold an information session about the test and the results. Parents may misunderstand the purpose of these assessments and how to read the results. An educator would be able to clarify in “parent terms” what the results mean. Once parents are given clarity about the assessments, they may have a better understanding of their child’s strengths and areas of need.
- Become educated on the assessments and support available. Parents should reach out to their child’s teacher to find out if he or she will be offering extra support for testing. This may include more homework or staying after school. The parent can correspond by email and sending a letter to school, or leaving a message for the teacher with the office. Parents can find out if their child is entitled to Academic Intervention Services (AIS). AIS is designed to help students achieve the learning standards in ELA and mathematics and supplements the general curriculum. AIS can be given throughout the day or after school. New York State has provided Guidance on cut scores to school districts on when they must offer AIS services, since most students in New York State are not yet proficient on the CCCS. Parents should also become educated on the goals of the assessments and support the skills measured by the CCSS. Guidance for parents and families on the CCCS is available.
- Consider whether your child should opt out of testing. Today, more parents are considering this option. School districts discourage opting out, as schools must show a certain level of participation on the exams or could risk state funding and educators are concerned about the lack of assessment data. Parents should work with their local PTA/PTSA to find out information on removing their child from state testing. Review carefully the pros and cons of opting out. Many advocacy groups have set forth information on opting out.
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