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Is New York State Over-Assessing Assessments?

Mineola School District officials discuss Albany meetings on teacher, test evaluations

Mineola School District officials have been in Albany hammering out what could impact local districts that implement new state exams in the coming years, District Superintendent Michael Nagler revealed. Assistant superintendent Patricia Burns spent the first three days of last week in the State Capitol in meetings with state officials to discuss the approach on new testing techniques.

“The state is in a constant state of flux about the new assessments and this new APPR [Annual Professional Performance Review],” Nagler said. “It’s amazing when [Pat and] I have conversations when she comes back and how it changes from meeting to meeting and some of the thought process.”

Under the new APPR plan, 60 percent of teacher ratings would be based on classroom observations, 20 percent on students’ scores on state standardized tests, and 20 percent on a list of three scoring options. That could include locally developed tests, tests offered by third parties or a simple doubling of the value placed on the state tests. School boards would have to negotiate the final 20 percent with their local unions.

“You have to put this in perspective,” Nagler said. “There’s a lot of flux; there’s a lot of people’s livelihoods embedded in these [test scores] so we have to temper what we need to do and what’s right for kids in how we roll [new assessments] out.”

Any school district that does not implement the new APPR by January 2013 will be forced to forgo its share of an $805-million increase in school aid planned for this year.

One of New York State’s suggestions, according to Burns, is to give students old Regents exams at the beginning of the school year, to establish a growth model (a means of approach to see how far they have come in learning content). The idea puzzled Nagler.

Calls to the state education department were not returned.

“How do you test them if they don’t know the content?” Nagler said. “So the suggestion is that you give them old Regents in the beginning of a course. Wouldn’t all children not do well on it considering they don’t know the material? The state’s answer was, ‘Then they’ll grow.’ …there is no logic. I don’t know what to take away from that.

“I don’t know if we should take away the fact that the Regents is not going to be around so they don’t want to invest in how you show a growth model, and how you do it in an academic area is really tricky,” he concluded.

New York, in conjunction with 42 states, adopted the common core (national) curriculum.  The Regents exam, New York’s state testing module for students, may become a thing of the past when a new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment is implemented. PARCC is a group of states that will develop a common set of K-12 assessments in English and math.

The fate of the Regents, which has been subject to much controversy in terms of cost and analyzing student progress, has not been decided. Twenty-four of the 42 states to adopt the common core will use PARCC.

These K-12 PARCC assessments would mark students’ progress toward college from third grade up, and provide information to inform instruction and provide student support. Currently, there is no state assessment from kindergarten to 3rd grade.

“Grades K-3 have no state assessment,” Nagler said. “We have to figure out how we’re showing a growth model for all the children in all those grades.”

The PARCC assessments will be ready in 2014, according to Nagler. PARCC received a $186 million grant through the U.S. Department of Education’s “Race to the Top” assessment competition to support the development of a “next-generation assessment system.”

States that won the Race to the Top money, New York and Florida, among others, were tasked to make a test that lines up with the new common core, which makes those 42 states use the same assessment.

The PARCC states include Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Teacher assessments are the new hot topic in education, and will be for a while. Consensus has been difficult to achieve on a move that affects the state, schools, teachers and students—it’s hard to please everyone.  One side benefit, however, might be the phasing out of the Regents exams, a long simmering debate. The Regents has been the standard in New York since 1866. The question now is, will the newly devised PARCC assessment last 146 years?