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Editorial: Regents continue to listen to critics of testing, cut exam days

The Board of Regents has taken another significant step in its efforts to responsibly revise the state education assessments that have prompted large numbers of parents to pull their children from the tests. Reducing the number of testing days from three to two is a sensible retrenchment, as long as it provides enough data to evaluate whether children are learning and school districts are performing.

With the large number of children being opted out by their parents, the state’s ability to produce reliable reports on education has been compromised. Those parents have had a variety of explanations for what amounted to a selfish decision: Some thought the tests too stressful; some were in the thrall of the teachers unions; some had other motivations.

But what they unquestionably did was to hinder the ability of educators to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the state’s education system. For that, children pay the price.
Regardless, the Board of Regents and the State Education Department needed to act.

However wrongheaded the motivations of some parents may be, the state could not simply pretend it wasn’t happening. Too many children were being sacrificed to the politics of the moment, harming them and their peers, now and into the future.

As good as its word, the state has been recalibrating the tests for two years, last year taking time limits off the tests and, in 2015, eliminating their use in formal teacher evaluations. Now, this year it has cut testing time by one-third. It’s a significant change.

Math and English assessments for grades three to eight now stretch over three days each. Some parents argued those exams were age-inappropriate and too stressful for children, though other parents had no problem with them. Some teachers also protested, saying the testing, including student preparation time, took up too many valuable instruction hours.

In response, education officials announced this week that those tests will now be given over two days, starting next spring. That’s a useful change, presuming the shortened tests will provide an accurate view of student and school achievement, as Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa said they would.
“This decision not only reduces the amount of time children will spend taking tests, but also returns valuable instructional time to our teachers,” she said in a Regents press release. “We will make certain the tests continue to provide a valid and reliable measurement of student achievement.”

Already, the change doesn’t please some critics, who claim the tests remain too flawed to support. But High Achievement New York, a group of parents who support the tests, took a more balanced view.

“Parents asked for their students to spend less time taking tests and more time learning. The new tests do just that,” said Stephen Sigmund, the group’s executive director. “Parents asked for fewer time restrictions and less pressure on students. These tests do that, too. … Now New York parents need to start saying yes to the tests and help every child have access to a quality education.”

The Regents and the Education Department should continue to evaluate the tests, but they have documented their interest in hearing the complaints of their critics. It’s time for the critics to demonstrate their willingness to move ahead, too.

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