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NCLB Outrages

An In-Depth Look at New York's New Tests

Ohanian Comment: The Deputy Education Commissioner makes it sound as though testing makes these things important: We want to send a clear signal that writing is important at every grade level and the schools need to pay attention to that. Part of what we do with the large-scale assessment system is to send signals of what are the priorities, knowledge and skills that the students need to have. Funny thing: Eons ago, I worked one summer at the New York State Department of Education--on prompts for a Grade 5 writing assessment. We wanted to send a message of what an important priority writing was. What hubris to think nobody valued a subject until a state test arrived.

Is there a parent alive who wants her kid to be logically upgraded?

Is there an experienced teacher alive that believes these tests will do what the Deputy Education Commissioner says they will do?

Just asking.

Deputy Education Commissioner James Kadamus says 'We're changing the standards at the same time we're changing the grade-by-grade curriculum and developing the tests. But if you were to do this in a serial fashion you never would make the 2005-06 time frame.'

New York state public schools are gearing up for one of the most demanding mandates of the federal No Child Left Behind Act: the annual testing of students in grades 3-8 in math and English Language Arts. With the onset of grade-by-grade state tests beginning in the 2005-06 school year, the State Education Department plans to roll out new grade-by-grade standards in math and ELA and develop those into a new statewide core curriculum.
Can it all be done to meet the federal deadlines? What will it mean to you and your students? New York Teacher reporter John Strachan met recently with James Kadamus, State Ed's deputy commissioner for Elementary, Middle, Secondary and Continuing Education, to find out.

NYT: When will new grade-by-grade tests be given?

JK: The first administration of ELA will be in January 2006; math will be given in March 2006.

NYT: How will the test format change from the current tests in grades 4 and 8?

JK: The formats will be very familiar to teachers because they are like the current tests in grades 4 and 8. We'll have tests in grades 4, 6 and 8 that are 140 to 150 minutes in length, and 70- to 90-minute tests in grades 3, 5 and 7. There will be writing on every ELA test, but it will vary in length.

NYT: So writing remains a priority?

JK: We want to send a clear signal that writing is important at every grade level and the schools need to pay attention to that. Part of what we do with the large-scale assessment system is to send signals of what are the priorities, knowledge and skills that the students need to have.

NYT: What about the math tests?

JK: The tests will continue to have both multiple-choice and longer problems that have to be solved. But even then we're trying to make sure those new tests are a little shorter than we currently have in fourth and eighth grade.

NYT: Will all grades be tested on the subjects at the same time?

JK: The same time frame a two-day period. Administrators and teachers said it wouldn't make sense to do third grade one week, fourth another week and fifth another. Any time there's testing in the building there is some disruption, so it's better doing all grades at the same time.

NYT: What can teachers expect in the way of test samplers?

JK: A letter will be going out to teachers that will provide them with general information and direct them to a Web site where they can download information, including a test sampler. That sampler will describe the test and give samples of test questions and how the tests will be scored.

NYT: Will the samplers be complete tests?

JK: They're not a full-scale test, but they'll give samples of questions in each of the areas so teachers can become familiar with it. We plan on adding to that as we develop more questions and as we get more information.

NYT: When will the full test samplers be made available?

JK: They'll be available in fall 2005.

NYT: What are your plans for field-testing?

JK: In January and March 2005 we'll be field-testing to give us data on how well these tests are measuring the standards. We plan on having field testing for a sample of schools using much the same system we're using for the Regents exams. Every school in the state will participate at some grade level every year.

NYT: That's a lot of testing.

JK: We've been using this kind of system over the last few years. We don't want to bury schools in field-testing, but it is important for us to have larger samples so we can be sure they are representative of the state. That's one of the things that came out of the Math A panel.

NYT: What impact will the grades 3-8 testing have on the typical classroom teacher in those grades?

JK: Because we're able to test every grade, we believe that we are going to construct tests that are much more instructionally sensitive; that is, they will provide more information to teachers about where instruction is working or where it is lacking, and will allow teachers to make adjustments in their instructional program.

NYT: That sounds a little like a "value-added" system of accountability.

JK: Well, we've stopped short of claiming that we are creating a value-added system. It certainly is the first step of looking at a value-added type of system. It will allow us to judge both progress of individuals and groups of students for a period of time. Our current system is based on a snapshot of a class in fourth grade and a snapshot of a class in eighth grade. It's a legitimate way of doing accountability, but what we're seeing now is the ability of looking at how a group of third-grade kids do in fourth grade, then in fifth and then in sixth grade, on a standard that is consistent year to year.

NYT: Are you looking for more accountability from teachers?

JK: What we are looking for is better alignment among standards, curriculum and assessment and ultimately better alignment with the instruction. I'd have to say that our current accountability system is very strong, in terms of what we have under NCLB. I don't believe the Regents are considering any additions to that accountability system. However, we are reviewing how we should amend our current approved NCLB accountability plan, which is based on grades 4 and 8 testing, when we introduce the grades 3-8 testing system.

NYT: How is the new testing program going to change standards and curriculum?

JK: We are now going to have grade-by-grade standards, setting expectations by grade level. We had a committee over the summer working on the ELA standards. We've had the Math Standards Committee working since January to publish grade-by-grade standards in mathematics. Both sets of standards will be ready by this fall. And we are taking all of that information and developing a new state core curriculum, grade-by-grade, which we plan on publishing around January.

NYT: How do you plan to develop the curricula?

JK: We're examining grade-by-grade curricula that are now in place. Many BOCES have done this for their component districts; the United Federation of Teachers has done this for New York City . Our plan is to publish a state core curriculum, then put models of grade-by-grade curricula on our Web site that are consistent with the state core curriculum and the standards. We want to put these out not as a mandate, but as a model for districts.

NYT: What can you tell us about the report of the Math Standards Committee that will be presented to the Regents in November?

JK: The committee is doing some shifting of where in each grade they believe certain math topics should be covered. There is always this depth vs. breadth argument that we get into. The committee believes that we were trying to cover too many topics in mathematics so they've narrowed this and are in fact looking for more in-depth coverage.

NYT: Can you be more specific?

JK: The committee is focusing on adjustments at the performance indicator level where you begin to look at "How do these key ideas translate into expected performance, both in terms of content and in terms of process?"

NYT: When will teachers see the approved, revised math standards?

JK: The Math Standards Committee will present its recommendations to the Regents in early November. After that, there will be a month-long public comment period. We anticipate the Board of Regents will approve the revised math standards in January.

NYT: What's been the response of those in the field who have seen the proposal?

JK: We've so far gotten very positive feedback indicating that the work of the committee was clearer, more logical, more doable than what we currently have in terms of math standards.

NYT: What will this change mean at the classroom level?

JK: The question is how big a shift is it from what your practice is now? I think in some districts this will be a significant change; in others, it probably won't be. I want to make clear to teachers that we're not trying to cause math disruption. We're trying to make these logical upgrades and evolutionary changes.

NYT: With the new math standards taking effect in September 2005, how and when will teachers and districts be able to select and order appropriate textbooks?

JK: In most schools, new textbooks will not be needed in K-4. Because of changes to the math standards in grades 5-8, textbook supplements or additional textbook material may be needed.

NYT: Will you be reviewing standards and core curriculum in other subjects?

JK: If our standards are going to be the best, then we need to create a process for continuous improvement in those standards. But we have a ton of work here to do with English and math, so it's our first priority.

NYT: How do you plan to get the word out to schools about all of these developments?

JK: We need to have a very large communication campaign this fall to get information out to the schools and to the teachers about what these changes are going to look like; what the implications are for curriculum; and how they can begin to make changes, even in this coming school year. There was a statewide teleconference on Oct. 20. That's being followed by a series of regional meetings throughout the state.

NYT: What will the regional meetings include?

JK: Our testing staff will come out and provide an overview for teachers, including an evening session for parents and the public. We'll be enlisting the cooperation of the BOCES, the Big Five cities, the teacher centers and other entities to structure professional development that will follow up these regional meetings.

NYT: Are you concerned about rushing to meet the federal deadlines?

JK: We're changing the standards at the same time we're changing the grade-by-grade curriculum and developing the tests. But if you were to do this in a serial fashion you never would make the 2005-06 time frame. In some ways it makes more sense to do it all at once because we want to solidify the linkage of curriculum, testing and instruction. If all of those are aligned, we are going to have a very effective assessment system.

NYT: Naturally, our members want to know what they should be doing now to prepare themselves and their students for these tests.

JK: Our goal is to inundate the field with information on this. We want to affect both the instructional program and the professional development in the second half of the 2004-05 school year and next summer so the new curricula, the new programming, can be put in place starting in fall 2005. Again, I believe that we are going to find that many districts are in alignment with what we are going to be doing grade-by-grade.

NYT: How do you plan to handle the increased scoring that will be necessary?

JK: We're going to have to work that out. We are looking into the possibility of scanning the papers and having teachers score papers online in order to reduce scoring time and turn around results faster.

NYT: Will the testing in grades 3-8 ultimately affect the format and length of Regents exams?

JK: Over time, we'll be looking at the implications of grade-by-grade testing on the high school exams in English and math. There are a number of groups that have felt that the six-hour format of ELA needs to be looked at again.

NYT: Despite the angst over No Child Left Behind, you obviously see a benefit in this additional testing.

JK: We've got to turn the mandate into a benefit. The tests are able to give us some better judgments. There's too much time between grades 4 and 8 to know where the system broke down for the kids who aren't achieving in eighth grade. The new tests will give us more information to make changes in instruction where necessary.

New York Teacher


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