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They’re here: Children sit for state assessments

Thousands of hours and thousands of dollars have been spent trying to convince parents to have their children take or not take – New York State assessment tests.

The opt-out letters have been written, and the pencils have been sharpened for the opt-ins filling in the bubble answer sheets. While adults continue to discuss the merits of taking the tests, children walk through the door to school Tuesday as usual, with some more eager than others.

Here’s what they can expect:

The day

Many schools want to keep test day as much like any other day as possible.

The tests, shrink-wrapped in clear cellophane, have been kept in the school safe or other secure location until the morning of the test. They are ripped open and quickly counted for delivery to each classroom moments before the start of the test, although teachers have been able to study the directions in advance. The state wants the paper tests to become a thing of the past, with the assessments administered on computers by 2020.

Assessments in English language arts and math have fewer questions than last year, and students will have an unlimited amount of time to take the three-day tests. Teachers reviewed each question before it could be included.

Those students not taking the tests bring books to read, and they stay in the classrooms in many schools. Once the test begins, the school gets unnaturally quiet. But kindergarteners, first- and second-graders go about their normal day.

When it appears most or all have finished the test, the teacher will ask if anyone needs more time. If students continue to work productively, schools may take them to another location to finish, while the rest of the class gets on with its day.

This week: ELA

Students will take the English language arts test Tuesday through Thursday.

Grades three and four:

• Reading passages: Reduced from five to four on the first day.

• Multiple choice questions: Reduced from 30 to 24 on the first day.

• Questions requiring written response: Reduced from three to two on the second day.

• Estimated time for tests: 60 to 70 minutes.

Grades five through eight:

• Reading passages: Reduced from six to five on the first day.

• Multiple choice questions: Reduced from 42 to 35 on the first day.

• Questions requiring a written response: Reduced from three to two on the second day.

• Estimated time for tests: 80 to 90 minutes.

Next week: Math

Students will take the math test April 13-15.

Grade three:

• Multiple choice questions reduced from 24 to 22 on the first and second days.

Grades four and five:

• Multiple choice questions reduced from 24 to 22 on the first day and from 25 to 23 on the second day.

Grades six through eight:

• Multiple choice questions reduced from 28 to 26 on the first day and 27 to 25 on the second day.

The controversy

Even some of the youngest children are aware there is a difference of opinion over the state assessments. They hear other children talking about not taking the test, and campaign at home that they should opt out, too.

The new chancellor of the Board of Regents said recently that if she had children, she would opt them out at this time, while the education commissioner toured the state last week urging parents to have their children take the tests.

Parents who opt their children out say the tests still are too long, are not age appropriate, are not prescriptive or diagnostic, and they are worried about the privacy of student data. Opting out, they say, is the only action that has gotten the attention of lawmakers and educators. They also want the moratorium on using tests in teacher evaluations made permanent.

But those advocating the tests say the changes made to the tests have addressed those concerns, with more changes on tap in future tests. Testing children is important to evaluate curriculum as well as academic strengths and weaknesses, and to maintain high standards, they say.

How many will opt out?

No one knows.

Last year, numbers were as high as 71 percent opting out in the West Seneca Central School District, and as low as 8 percent in Cheektowaga Central. Activists predict record numbers again this year, and even some supporters of the test believe there will be an increase in refusals this year, while at least two area districts said they had received fewer opt-out letters than they had last year at this time.

– Barbara O’Brien