By Nicole Garcia, Special Education Advocate
This week in New York, students in grades 3-8 will take their English Language Arts and Math exams. As the testing season begins, the routine of school as we know it, changes. Governor Cuomo’s new accountability measures for teachers have created additional pressure for teachers and principals. The introduction of the Common Core State Standards has created even more angst and frustration. Now, parents believe too much emphasis exists on state testing as well. To help you navigate issues surrounding state testing for your child, we have provided some background:
The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB)
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. 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. Every state, including New York, has put in place testing and standards in core subjects to comply with NCLB requirements. Schools must test annually in reading and math in grades 3-8 and at least once in grades 10-12. Students will be tested in science at least one grade in elementary, middle and high school.
Each state chooses its own test and standards of proficiency. 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 (the loss of federal funds, possible complete restructuring of the school, or closing the school). In 2012, President Barack 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 at a particular school and are reported by State Department of Education to compare groups of students from year to year. 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.
New York adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in 2012
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Initiative was a joint effort by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) www.nga.org and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) www.ccsso.org in partnership with Achieve, ACT, and the College Board. Through this initiative, Governors and state commissioners of education from across the country committed to joining a state-led process to develop a common core of state standards in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics for grades pre k through 12. One of the main goals was to develop a “common core of standards that are internationally bench-marked, aligned with work and post-secondary education expectations, and inclusive of the higher order skills that students need…”
In April 2009, Governor David Paterson and former Education Commissioner Richard P. Mills signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) along with fifty other states and territories to participate in the national dialogue to develop these voluntary standards. The final Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for Mathematics and CCSS for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects were unveiled June 2, 2010. States began adopting them immediately, as part of their commitment to the ‘Federal Race to the Top’ reform efforts. The process required states to adopt the CCSS word-for-word, but allowed for the addition of up to 15% more standards in each subject area to accommodate individual state concerns and preferences. On July 19th, 2010, the New York State Board of Regents adopted the CCSS for Mathematics and CCSS for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects, with the understanding that New York State could add additional expectations to the Common Core. Students need to be college and career ready upon graduation. The Common Core standards are designed to enable students to be prepared for life after high school. More information about the Common Core standards can be found on the New York State Education Department website www.nysed.gov.
Supporters of the assessments believe the test provides a measure of accountability for what goes on in the classroom. This helps students meet basic proficiency levels and achieve basic skills. Supporters also believe teachers will perform to ensure that children will be prepared and score high on the state test. On the downside, teachers are responsible for ensuring that students are prepared for the test which leaves them little time for other subjects. Recent accountability measures for teachers have exacerbated this pressure. Many parents are concerned that teachers “teach to the test” and must necessarily eliminate enriching opportunities and creative lessons from the curriculum.
New York State Alternative Assessment (NYSAA)
Children with the most severe cognitive disabilities, as set forth in their Individualized Education Programs (IEPs), may receive alternate assessments. In New York, students with alternate assessments on their IEP take the New York State Alternate Assessment (NYSAA). The NYSAA is an assessment in which students with severe cognitive disabilities demonstrate their performance toward achieving the New York State P-12 Common Core Learning Standards in English language arts and mathematics.
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. Students will be assessed once a year beginning in the school year they become 9 years old through the school year they become 14 (grade equivalents 3-8). The NYSAA will administer the secondary level during the school year that the student reaches 17-18 years of age (high school). More information about NYSAA can be found 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 this year. Of course, make sure that you know when your school district has scheduled the tests. School calendars may indicate when the test is being given. 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.
- 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. Ask the school principal to hold an information session about the test and the results. Parents misunderstand the purpose of these assessments and how to read the results. While their child may have scored in the upper percentile, they may not comprehend what this means. 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.
- Work with your child’s teacher to prepare your child for the test. The goal for both the teacher and parent is to see the child succeed. Parents and teachers need to be able to work collaboratively. Parents should reach out to their child’s teacher to find out if she will offer extra help for testing. This may include more homework or staying after school. The parent can correspond by email, 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. It supplements the general curriculum. AIS can be given throughout the day or after school. A school may offer AIS to a child if he or she scored low on the previous state test.
- Opt out of testing. Today, more parents are considering this option. Parents should work with their local PTA/PTSA to find out information on removing their child from state testing. Last year, about 60,000 students in grades 3-8 opted not to take mandated state test.
To learn more about opting out of testing, visit sites such as http://www.nysape.org/refusing-the-test-resources.html.
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