May/June 2019 Issue
April 20, 2019

NYSUT demands major changes to the state’s grades 3–8 testing

Author: Sylvia Saunders
Source: NYSUT United
correct the tests
Caption: Capital Region union leaders protest the flawed tests on the steps of the State Education Department. From left, Mike Silvestri, Schenectady FT; Seth Cohen, Troy TA; Natalie McKay, Schoharie TA; and Juliet Benaquisto, Schenectady FT. Photo by El-Wise Noisette.

This year’s debacle with the state’s grades 3–8 ELA exams proved to be a nightmare for students and teachers alike — and certainly underscored NYSUT’s “Correctthe Tests” campaign. While State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia assured parents and educators this year’s testing would be better, it turned out to be much worse. By the end of the first week of ELA testing, Elia expressed regret for the complete shutdown of computer-based testing and vowed to hold the testing vendor, Questar Inc., accountable.

“Regrets are not enough,” said NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango at an April 8 press event on the steps of the State Education Department while the Regents met inside. “We need action now.”

The state testing problems went far beyond the epic failure of the computer-based testing trial, DiBrango noted. There was just as much frustration with the traditional paper and pencil exams, which are still way too long and developmentally inappropriate.

“We received hundreds of heartbreaking stories from teachers, parents and students,” DiBrango said.

“While testing is federally required, it doesn’t have to be this way.”

“My third-graders were breaking down in tears out of frustration and falling asleep because of the length of the test,” said Schoharie Teachers Association President Natalie McKay.

“Many were sitting more than 3.5 hours — that’s longer than the SAT college entrance exam!” McKay said the ELA exam is more a test of endurance, than content, for her 8- and 9-year-old students.

“It crumbles their confidence,” she said. “The kids are not even showing what they can do.”

DiBrango noted the union has also received disturbing reports of district administrators using blatant misinformation and intimidation tactics to discourage opt outs.

Some building administrators were refusing to honor parents’ requests to opt their children out, while others were offering bonuses for students to participate. Incentives included pizza parties and special events where the principal would shave his head or “kiss a pig” if participation rates hit 95 percent. Some schools promised to exempt students from final exams.

While such events might sound like harmless fun, parents and educators argued these kind of activities made students feel left out, harassed and traumatized. At least one family has filed a bullying complaint against their district under the Dignity for All Students Act.

The NYSUT media event also featured a number of Assembly members who said it is time for SED to overhaul its testing system or expect legislative intervention. “We’re not going to let this continue,” said Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam.

CORRECT THE TESTS

NYSUT’s campaign is urging the Board of Regents and State Education Department to fix its flawed and unfair grades 3–8 testing system. Key concerns include:

  • The state’s ELA and math tests are too long;
  • Untimed testing can be cruel and traumatic;
  • The tests are developmentally inappropriate;
  • Invalid scoring benchmarks mislabel children and schools;
  • Computer-based testing is problematic and has been rolled out too quickly. NYSUT opposes online testing for grades 3–5.

Your Letters

Read the following testimonials from members across New York State and share your testing stories at correctthetests.com:

Capital Region

I teach a class with several English language learners. One student has only had two years of formal education. This child wanted to do her best and spent five hours on day two of the ELA test trying to read and answer stories and questions that were far out of reach for her. It was torture to watch her struggle. Why not test her at her level and let her find some success?

Western New York

This year, despite the “shortened” test, I had 8- and 9-year-old students sitting for at least two hours straight. As I know through experience and research, a child is not developmentally ready to work at something for this length of time. If testing of this nature is required, at least make it accessible to children ... fewer texts to read and more developmentally appropriate questions. The written responses were incredibly long for third graders — six short response questions and an essay. This was way too much for them.

Central New York

I was told that if I even ask a child if they have an opt-out letter I would lose my certification. I was also told by admin that as a state employee I was to “sell” the test. Our school leader told students there were no opt outs this year. For those that did bring a letter, a phone call to parents was made. Parents were told their child would need the test to qualify for accelerated classes or to get the help they need.

Lower Hudson Valley

Today I witnessed a very hardworking student hysterically crying because she was almost done and her test froze. When she was able to log back in, all of her work was gone. Insanity. This child worked SO hard. How on earth can you expect a 12-year-old to get back into the mindset to being test ready after having lost all their hard work?

Lower Hudson Valley

My students had to sit and wait 1 1/2 hours to get onto the system. Finally, when they did get on and completed the test, they could not submit! One of my students had a breakdown, crying. The psychologist needed to be called in.

Long Island

I had two fifth graders who began day two of the ELA test at 9:35 and continued testing until 2 p.m.! They missed lunch, recess and music. They were permitted to bring their lunch into the extended testing room and eat for 10 minutes. They were so stressed out, but wanted to do their best. Afterward, when they finally joined the class again, one of the students asked me for a hug.

Central New York

A third-grade student told me she spent the whole day taking the test and only stopped for lunch. This is abuse. I think that the governor and other NY politicians should have to sit and take the fifth-grade test and only be allowed to get up for lunch and the bathroom for two days straight.

Lower Hudson Valley

On day two of the test, my students had to write six short answers and one long response! Of my 23 students, 15 were still writing their responses at 2:30! That’s five hours of testing! When I took the SAT at 18, it only took three hours to complete and I was 18, not 8! This was a form of child abuse.

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