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No changes coming to New York's standardized tests for least two years

New York State will not make any additional changes to the standardized tests given to students in grades three through eight at least through 2018.

Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia made the announcement Monday, saying that the decision followed a review of the testing program that included feedback from parents, educators and members of the Board of Regents. As a result, the math and English language arts exams will be administered the same way for the next two school years.

The decision follows a year when the state made significant changes in how it administers the exams, including reducing the length of the tests, allowing students unlimited time and releasing many test questions to the public.

“After listening to the concerns and feedback from countless educators and parents, last year we made significant changes to the ELA and math tests to reduce the pressure for children and provide educators with more information about the tests than ever before,” Elia said. “While we closely examined shortening the testing days based on this feedback, our expert analysis determined it would not be feasible to do that and still be able to have meaningful growth comparisons for students, schools or statewide. We will reexamine shortening the testing days as part of designing the tests for the state’s new learning standards.”

Elia's announcement drew mixed response from those on either side of the standardized testing debate, underscoring a rift that continues to divide parents and educators even as the state attempts to respond to their feedback.

Some parents who have been protesting the state's standardized testing program say the decision ignores their concern that  the tests take up too much classroom time and are not developmentally appropriate for students, placing undo stress on those taking them.

"It is very disappointing that (the State Education Department) continues to ignore the concerns of families," said Chris Cerrone of Springville, co-founder of New York State Allies for Public Education.  "Last year's changes were very minor in nature and did little to address the inappropriate length of time spent on the assessments.  Why would parents buy into testing in the spring of 2017 that will continue to use the flawed Common Core standards which are being in the process of being revised and will no longer exist in the near future?"

Despite the changes to last year's tests, parents continued to opt their children out in high numbers, with one out of every five children ]\]]\efusing the test.

Meanwhile, education reform groups applauded Elia for staying committed to the high standards adopted by her predecessor, current U.S. Education Secretary John B. King Jr., despite pushback from parents, teachers unions and even some members of the Board of Regents.

“The Board of Regents and State Education Department’s decision to maintain the existing state assessments is an important win for equity," said Ian Rosenblum, executive director of The Education Trust-New York. "Having consistent assessments will make testing more transparent by providing valuable information to parents and educators about the progress our students and schools are making and will also help the state identify and meet achievement and opportunity challenges. Just as improving the tests was the right decision for the assessments that were given earlier this year, staying the course now is in the best interest of students and puts the focus where it belongs: on ensuring successful and equitable implementation of the standards and continuing to put in place the necessary support for educators.”

The state conducted its review in collaboration with Questar, the company that designs the tests. One of the primary concerns was that changing the tests again would have made it impossible to look at student performance over the course of several years. By administering the tests the same way over three years, educators will be able to gauge student performance - and growth - during that period.

“I have always said that state assessments must be diagnostic, valid, and reliable – and they must provide timely and practical information to teachers, administrators and parents,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa. “Maintaining the current testing for now will allow us to measure student development over time in these areas. While we will consider moving to two-day tests for 2019, we will also examine the possibility of adding multiple measures of student achievement into the assessments.”

That issue became a concern earlier this year when, although test results showed an increase in the percentage of students deemed proficient, state education leaders cautioned the gains may have resulted from the testing changes - not any improvement in student learning.

For example, students had more time to answer fewer test questions, so the modest gains may simply reflect that students had an easier time taking the exams, not that they learned more.

Statewide, the percentage of students deemed proficient went from 31.3 percent to 37.9 percent in reading and from 38.1 percent to 39.1 percent in math. The proficiency rate in both subjects is up from 31.1 percent in 2013 when the state first administered the Common Core tests.

Elia acknowledged that the testing changes make it difficult for the public to assess growth over time, and noted that the results should be viewed as a snapshot that can be used to compare one school or district to another.

“It’s not an apples to apples comparison and should be viewed in that context,” Elia said during a news conference when the results were released earlier this year.

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