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State tests begin with computer glitch, teacher complaints

The New York State assessments got off to a bit of a bumpy start this week.

  • Students around the state had problems with computer-based testing Wednesday.
  • Some teachers said the second day of testing requires short and long writing passages, which is taking some children hours to complete.
  • And in Buffalo, teachers were irked that some administrators are giving incentives to children who take the test, but not to those who opt out.

One Buffalo school principal promised a pizza party to students who took the English language arts test. Another pledged tickets the students could use to go to a roller-skating rink. Still, another offered incentives for field trips – but only to those who took the state test, said Philip Rumore, president of the Buffalo teachers union.

The Buffalo Teachers Federation fielded those and other complaints from teachers in at least seven schools trying to encourage students not to opt out and boost the number of kids taking the test. Twelve percent of students in Buffalo opted out of the ELA test last year.

"Teachers are angry," Rumore said. "Whether we agree or disagree on whether students should take the test, I think we all need to agree to that we should not be humiliating students whose parents are doing what they think is best for their children."

Buffalo schools are always giving students an incentive for doing their best work, said Margaret Boorady, associate superintendent for school leadership.

"They do this not simply for state tests, but every day," Boorady said. "We are way down in opt-out numbers this year, but some people will always push against the state tests.

"It's all about encouraging children to do their best – even when it may be difficult," she said.

Several teachers around the state complained about the length of the second day of tests, which include a lot of writing. Students are allowed to take as long as they need to finish the tests as long as they are working productively. "After over six hours, students are still taking their ELA test. This is unbelievable. This is not what education is about," tweeted one Manhattan teacher.

There were no reports of major computer snafus Thursday, as schools moved into another day of testing. The vendor producing New York's ELA assessments sent representatives into the field Thursday after some students had problems Wednesday.

"Much better," said Depew Superintendent Jeffrey Rabey. "Questar was very responsive."

Compare your school’s ELA and math scores with other schools

Depew was one of more than 260 school districts in the state where children had problems with the computer-based tests. Rabey said a representative of the state's testing vendor, Questar, was in Depew Thursday morning to assist with any operational errors, but there were none.

"The state Education Department put out a very detailed memo late yesterday," he said.

The memo assisted with the recovery of data from Wednesday, enabling students to continue with the two-day assessment Thursday.

"It went off without a hitch," Rabey said. "Hopefully tomorrow will be the same."

The glitch Wednesday in the computer-based ELA state assessments made it difficult to download the tests affected some students in some schools in 263 districts.

The computer glitch ignited a storm of comments on Twitter, particularly from those opposed to the tests or in favor of opting out. The Victor Teachers Association tweeted: "What’s wrong with High Stakes Tests? Today SED/Questar had a bad day. The solution? Students can take the tests tomorrow. If a student has a bad day tomorrow? He’s labeled ineffective for the next year."

Ian Rosenblum, executive director of the Education Trust-New York said, "In the short-term, this shows that NYSED planned appropriately by accounting for possibilities like this in the testing window." He said the assessments are essential to improving equity and supporting students.

"We have been in constant contact with schools and reminded them that there is flexibility built into the test schedule," Emily DeSantis, a spokeswoman for the state Education Department, said in a written statement, adding that schools were able to postpone the testing to another day.

That's what Depew did. The superintendent said all of the district's third- through eighth-graders, with a few exceptions, are taking the test on computers.

"We started with our middle school students," he said. "Once we recognized there was an issue, we suspended the testing."

After the problems developed, the district postponed the start of the elementary computer tests until Thursday. Elementary students are to finish it Friday.

DeSantis said Questar reported more than 49,900 students completed computer-based testing Wednesday.

Middle schoolers were taking the assessment at Lake Shore, and the problem affected the sixth and seventh grades for about a half hour, said district spokesman Josh Gregory. They took the test on Chromebooks before the eighth-graders started their assessment.

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