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State Tests Spark Ire, Analysis

Parent Comment: My son has been taking "practice tests" for the standardized tests for weeks -- given by his teachers. Is that the way elementary school should be taught? After the test yesterday he refused to even talk about it. A bright student who loves school came home moping and depressed feeling like a failure. Its not about coddling -- its about supporting our children to strive for creativity and greatness -- not test performance.

Ohanian Comment: Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch considers test length "a healthy problem." She said she "only saw one kid crying." That's healthy too?

Tisch loves the Common Core.

Meryl Tisch is the daughter-in-law of Loew's CEO. Her own children went to private schools, and she concludes from their taking test prep for the SATs that test prep provides a good tool for learning. (New York Times, March 6,2002)

Here is more on Tisch, a longtime test proponent.

By Lisa Fleisher

New York state education officials have already begun to weigh the fallout from tougher standardized tests tied to new academic standards after schools and parents complained this week that children ran out of time, collapsed in tears or froze up.

The English tests, administered to third- through eighth-graders beginning Tuesday, were the first in New York to evaluate students on uniform standards that have been adopted by most states and emphasize critical thinking. Math exams will be given next week.

Officials had been warning for months that the exams would be much more difficult than in previous years.

The results matter: In many districts, teachers will be judged on how student scores improve from last year. The tests are also used by New York City to help determine promotions to the next grade and summer school attendance, and scores can help determine what middle or high school children attend.

Initial reports from around the state suggested a common struggle: Some children couldn't complete the exam within the allotted time. Diana Chen, a sixth-grade teacher at Public School 126 in Manhattan, said her students could have used at least a half-hour more.

"The kids were exhausted," she said after school on Thursday. "It was the first time where I had kids break down during the test."

Kristen Huff, a research fellow at the state Education Department, said the department believed it had given students "ample time" to complete the exams after weighing field tests and research from the testmaker, Pearson, and then adding more time on top of the company's estimates. For the English test, third- and fourth-graders were given 70 minutes on each of three days; fifth- through eighth-graders had 90 minutes.

Ms. Huff said she heard the reports of students who were unable to finish in time. But she said the department would need two or three weeks to analyze data in order to understand the extent of the issue.

"We have to consider these anecdotal until we get the data," she said. "We just cannot make a determination that this is widespread and systematic."

A small but growing segment of parents have advocated boycotting the tests, some hoping to disrupt the system. There are few firm consequences for students who don't take the exams, though in New York City, students could lose access to elite middle and high schools that use the exams in admissions decisions. But schools can suffer: they can be locked out of competing for some federal grants if more than 5% of children don't take the exam for any reason.

Rockville Centre on Long Island had an unusually high number of students who skipped the exam, Superintendent Bill Johnson said. Mr. Johnson said 338 of the district's 1,650 third- through eighth-graders didn't take the test.

Mr. Johnson said he thought there were "serious problems" with the test, in large part because teachers are just beginning to learn the approach required under the new benchmarks, known nationally as the Common Core State Standards.

"We had a couple of kids who got sick, who started throwing up," he said. "We had one child who went to the bathroom and refuse to leave. We had a number of children who walked out of tests crying."

Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, who helps set education policy for the state, said she visited several schools this week, and students told her they found the passages interesting and engaging. She said she "only saw one kid crying."

Ms. Tisch said the boy was a "sweet" fourth-grader, and she and his classmates tried to console him. She told the student that many other students were also having trouble completing the exam.

"We have to address that issue about finishing," she said.

But she called it a "healthy problem." It would be worse, she said, if tests were described as unfair or poorly done. Last year, for example, the state had to toss out questions related to a passage that was widely ridiculed for being confusing. "I would be so bold as to say they were better than most people expected them to be," she said.

Stephen O'Connor, a fifth-grade teacher in Wells, N.Y., said one of his students broke into tears in the middle of one testing session. Mr. O'Connor's eighth-grade son experienced similar challenges. As they drove home after school, the child turned to his father, worried. He said he found himself stuck near the end of the test, with limited time and two questions left. The longer one was worth four points, and a shorter one was worth two.

"He had to do some triage," Mr. O'Connor said. "I told him, 'You had to make the choice you made and we can't second guess it. It's over.'"

Ă¢€”Mara Gay contributed to this article.

— Lisa Fleisher
Wall Street Journal





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