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Teachers’ Union Tells Regents to “Correct” State Test Procedure

By Patti Singer

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The union representing teachers in New York called on the state Board of Regents to get involved in fixing what the union said is a broken testing system for grades 3 through 8 and students learning English.

New York State United Teachers has no confidence that the state Education Department under Commissioner MaryEllen Elia can create an equitable system that treats all students and schools fairly, according to a news release. More than 1,700 delegates at the union’s annual convention unanimously passed a resolution May 4 that called on the Board of Regents to direct the Education Department to make a series of changes that include involving teachers at every step of the process and represent the diversity of the state.

“We have received reports from every corner of the state about testing issues that have left students, parents and educators exasperated, yet the state has not outlined any plan to ensure these problems do not happen ever again,” NYSUT executive vice president Jolene DiBrango said in a news release. “The time for action is now. We look forward to working with the Board of Regents to ensure the voices of educators finally reverberate throughout the Education Department.”

NYSUT has launched a campaign called Correct the Tests to raise awareness of what the union said are serious issues with the grades 3 through 8 English Language Arts and math tests. The union also expressed concern about the New York State English as a Second Language Achievement Test. The union said the tests are harmful to students and it criticized computer-based testing.

“We will review NYSUT’s resolution,” Education Department spokeswoman Emily DeSantis wrote in an email in response to a request for comment. “As we have for the past four years, we welcome input from New York state’s teachers and look forward to continuing this dialogue as we look toward further improvements in our state assessments.”

NYSUT has more than 600,000 members in education, human services and health care. The union has passed previous resolutions about state testing, spokesman Matt Hamilton wrote in an email. “What is different this year is that the resolution states we don’t have confidence that the state Education Department will fix these issues on their own, so we call on the Board of Regents to direct them to do it. We certainly have voiced our concerns in the past, but calling for that action is what makes this year’s resolution unique.”

Hamilton said issues with tests are part of ongoing conversations with the Board of Regents and the Education Department. “We hope to have this addressed in an expedited manner. But do we have a hard timeline for them of when the changes might come? No.”

According to the Education Department, Elia and the Board of Regents have listened to concerns of teachers and parents and made changes as a result.

New York State Education Department Commissioner MaryEllen Elia

The department said that starting last year, English Language Arts and math sessions were reduced. For the fourth year in a row, tests are not timed. The department said that ELA tests were reduced by three passages and by six or seven multiple-choice questions, depending on grade level. In the math tests, extended construction-response questions were reduced and depending on grade level, seven to 13 multiple-choice questions were eliminated.

At the annual convention in early May, the NYSUT Representative Assembly passed the following resolution:

  • Whereas, the State Education Department (SED) and Commissioner Elia have failed to make the changes to the State grade 3-8 testing system and NYSESLAT recommended by NYSUT including re-setting the benchmarks, reducing testing and making the tests more developmentally appropriate; and
  • Whereas, the state grade 3-8 testing system and NYSESLAT need a major overhaul to ensure the system is equitable and treats all students and schools fairly; and
  • Whereas, the benchmarks for the state grade 3-8 tests and NYSESLAT were set at unrealistic levels; and
  • Whereas, these benchmarks have led to students and schools being mislabeled as failures; and
  • Whereas, the benchmarks on the state tests must be re-set first to ensure a fair testing system; and
  • Whereas, the state grade 3-8 tests and NYSESLAT continue to be too long because the SED and the Commissioner failed to properly reduce the number of questions when eliminating a day of testing; and
  • Whereas, the untimed state grade 3-8 tests and NYSESLAT have led to students spending more time on these tests than high school students spend on Regents exams; and
  • Whereas, the state grade 3-8 tests and NYSESLAT contain developmentally inappropriate reading passages and test questions; and
  • Whereas, the state continues to press forward on computer based testing despite evidence that tests scores drop when switching to computer based testing; and
  • Whereas, the computer based testing system continues to have major technical failures in implementation; and
  • Whereas, many districts do not have the capacity to implement computer based testing; and
  • Whereas, computer based testing measures a student’s ability to use a computer rather than the student’s knowledge of the subject being tested; and
  • Whereas, teacher involvement in the test development process is limited to small committees that cannot properly represent the diversity of the state; and
  • Whereas, NYSUT has no confidence in the Commissioner and the State Education Department to make the necessary changes to fix the state’s grade 3-8 testing system and NYSESLAT on their own.

The delegates resolved that the union will advocate for the regents to direct the commissioner of education to:

  • provide for the meaningful involvement of teachers selected by the union in every phase of the test development process; and
  • set the appropriate benchmarks by a large group of teachers representing the diversity of the state to ensure the tests accurately measure student knowledge and learning; and
  • reducing the number of questions on the grade 3-8 tests and NYSESLAT; and
  • conducting an independent study of the performance of students on computer based testing versus paper and pencil tests to determine the impact on school accountability; and
  • forming a committee of practitioners to review the study on computer based testing and develop a plan for the appropriate implementation of computer based testing including determining the appropriate grade level to begin computer based testing.

According to the Education Department, teachers from across the state are involved in creating, reviewing and selecting questions for the 2019 grades 3 through English Language Arts and math tests. This year, teachers reviewed all questions at least six times.

The Education Department has created documents for parents that explain the tests. The documents are written in several languages.