Commissioner Elia comes to Ulster County

Unlimited State Testing Time?

Commissioner Elia announced last Wednesday during the New York State budget hearing that there would be no time limits on the New York State tests this year.

Students in grades 3-8 will have as much time as they need to complete their state-mandated tests this year — as long as they are “working productively,” state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said Wednesday.

This announcement has been received with disbelief and horror by parents who having been saying over and over that the tests are too long due to the stress they place on many children.

I attended the parent meeting with Commissioner Elia in New Paltz New York on December 8, 2015.  She asked us to raise our hand if we thought students should be allowed to have more time for the state tests.  A parent/teacher had commented about the stress on students who were not able to finish the tests in the allotted time.  Many parents did raise their hands. However the hand-raising was not a response to the presentation of a well-thought out proposal but a response to a question that seemed to have just occurred to the Commissioner in response to the comment that was presented.

My response to the ‘not enough time’ problem would be to fix the tests so they could be completed in a reasonable amount of time so I was rather surprised when the Commissioner asked us to vote to allow students to take even longer than the currently allocated testing time.  A report at our our local board of education meeting on December 9 indicated that the Commissioner talked to the school board members about extending testing time when she met with them on December 8.

Kingston parent/board member Dr. Robin Jacobowitz was sitting beside me during the parent meeting with Commissioner Elia and tried to get Commissioner Elia’s attention to present a report Time on Test: The Fixed Costs of 3-8 Standardized Testing in New York State BEFORE the parent hand vote was taken but was not able to speak until after the vote.

The Time on Test report details the additional time spent on testing outside the actual time that the students are engaged in answering questions on the tests.  These “fixed costs” of testing do not lessen if a few questions are removed from the tests.  Many parents also do not realize how much additional time these activities take away from classroom instruction time.

The time for 3-8 testing in NYS, including the test itself and the fixed costs consume approximately 2 percent of the “required annual instructional hours.”  This exceeds and is already double the 1 percent standard that was passed by the legislature.

Elected leaders and appointed policy makers have been talking about shortening the exams (Harris, 2015, Sept 16; NYSSBA, 2015).   We agree it is a good idea to reduce the time given to these tests.  But as our research demonstrates, reducing the duration of each test will have minimal effect; less time will be spent on each exam, but the fixed costs remain and will still detract from instruction on those days.  Moreover, apportioning the tests over six days means that those “fixed costs” – and the time given to them – are replicated with each administration.  The only way to eliminate these fixed costs is to reduce the number of exam days.

A final contextualizing comment:  the “1 or 2 percent for tests” paradigm is arbitrary.  It is grounded less in science and more in rhetoric.  We believe that where time on testing is concerned, our students would be better served by thoughtful, deliberative testing policies that account for time as it relates to the loss of instruction as well as the capacity of our children to sit for an exam.  And while we agree a reasonable amount of testing might be necessary to assess our efficacy in educating our children, the cost to instruction, and student emotional health, must be considered.

We in New York State, give a lot more time to testing than we think we do.  We need to be concerned about the amount of instructional time that is lost, and resources diverted, in this process.

In fact time was so short in the parent meeting that Dr. Jacobowitz was able to say very little about the report other than to present a copy to Commissioner Elia.  She did not say all that I have included above.  The Commissioner did not ask for a revote after the “Time on Test” report was presented.

I believe that if the parents/teachers at the meeting had heard the details of the report before they voted, the hand vote would have been much different.

Parents do not want their students sitting for even longer than they already sit for the state testing!  Commissioner Elia’s announcement leaves parents even more resolute in their need to continue to REFUSE the state tests.

One thought on “Unlimited State Testing Time?”

  1. I am very concerned that parents are only expressing concerned about the state tests. I am concerned about the time our children spend on the star tests in the Kingston. Now I’m concerned about the ten marks math computer testing that I hear is now a part of the children’s grades in our middle schools. They still get assessed and tested weekly and quarterly and by units in every subject and special. When do the teachers actually have time to teach at all. Parents need to spend a week in a classroom not just a few hours during national education week. I think we would all be enlightened by what we witness. Honestly less people are even allowed in the classroom. I want to know what they are concealing. Education should be transparent.

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