New York Students start taking ELA test

Fourth-graders take a paper-based English Language Arts test at Charles E. Walters Elementary School in Yaphank in 2017. Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

NewsDay.com LONG ISLAND/EDUCATION

Pencils in hand, students start taking paper-based ELA test.
Newsday survey shows at least 78 LI districts are giving the traditional pencil-and-paper exam on Wednesday and Thursday. Others will administer the test on Thursday and Friday.

By Joie Tyrrell and John Hildebrand
joie.tyrrell@newsday.com, john.hildebrand@newsday.com  
Updated April 11, 2018 5:37 AM

Thousands of elementary and middle school students across Long Island and the state will start taking the state English Language Arts exam in traditional paper-and-pencil style on Wednesday, as the multiday rollout of this spring’s new test timeline continues.

With the state Education Department having shortened the test days from three to two, the 700-plus districts statewide were directed to choose two consecutive days from Wednesday through Friday to give the paper-based ELA exam in grades three through eight.

On Long Island, students in at least 78 of the 124 districts will take the paper-based test on Wednesday and Thursday, according to information from 96 systems that responded to a Newsday survey. Districts also can administer the test on Thursday and Friday.

For districts that decided to use computer-based tests in some grades, Tuesday was the first day that students took the electronic version of the ELA. Local systems had the option to schedule the computer-based test on two consecutive days from Tuesday through April 17.

A student takes test on laptop. AP Photo_Eric-Risberg

Statewide, more than 32,000 students on Tuesday began those electronic tests, which feature the same material as the paper exams. That was more than the total for students taking both the ELA and math tests in 2017, Education Department spokesman Jonathan Burman said.

“While there were some calls to technical support asking for assistance, all instances were resolved expediently and to the schools’ satisfaction,” he said. “All schools we have spoken with reported having very positive experiences.”

A handful of districts on the Island — including Fishers Island, Islip, Merrick, West Islip and Westhampton Beach — told Newsday that Tuesday was the first of two days of computer-based ELA exams for some of their students.

In Islip, fourth- and fifth-graders took the test electronically.

“Several tools were available for students to use to make them more efficient readers,” Ellen Semel, Islip’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said in a statement. “For example, our students were able to highlight text . . . They chose different font sizes. Some highlighted and others did not. They were able to customize their reading just as teachers differentiated their instruction — these tools allowed them to have a differentiated assessment.”

Christian Arsenault, principal of the tiny Fishers Island School, said students in the third, fourth and seventh grades starting taking the computer-based exam, or CBT, on Tuesday.

“We found the test to be very efficient, organized and technically sound,” Arsenault said.

The start of paper-based testing Wednesday comes with the possibility of significant boycotts of the controversial assessments. On the Island, known as the epicenter of the opt-out movement, test refusals — about 51 percent last year on the ELA — have run much higher than the state average.

Opt-out activists have long said the tests do not accurately measure student achievement and that far too much class time is devoted to test preparation.

The trimming of the test days from three to two, as well as the reduced number of test questions, were among the steps that the state Board of Regents and Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia took in response to the boycotts and criticism of the exams by both parents and educators.

In the Carle Place school district, paper-based testing begins Wednesday, said Superintendent David Flatley, who also is president of the Nassau County Council of School Superintendents. Last year, about 50 percent of students in that district boycotted the ELA exam, according to a Newsday survey at the time.

“I applaud the commissioner and the Board of Regents for listening to the concerns of parents and educators and doing their best in trying to move in the direction of more meaningful assessments,” Flatley said. “We will see later this week whether, at least on Long Island, that has some kind of impact on the numbers . . . and I am hopeful that it does.”

In a separate but related matter, a dispute has arisen over exactly how this year’s state assessments will be scored.

The state’s scoring system will have to be revamped because the current tests also are shorter in length than those used in the past. The question being fought over in Albany is whether revised scoring should be easier or held to the same difficult standard as before.

New York State United Teachers, the state’s largest teachers union, wrote in a letter posted on its website that the Education Department should change scoring so that the number of students in grades three through eight deemed proficient on tests would closely align with numbers of students passing Regents exams in high school.

Any such change would raise test-proficiency levels in grades three through eight — numbers that previously hovered around 40 percent — to more than 70 percent.

Jolene DiBrango, the union’s executive vice president, said in an interview Monday that the proposed change would allow “teachers and parents to be able to trust results from the exams.”

In a recent news release, advocates of the current testing system accused the teachers’ union of “conducting a campaign to lower expectations for students.” That release dealt largely with largely with state results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, tests in reading and math that are given biennially and draw on samples of hundreds of thousands of fourth- and eighth-grade students across the country.

Ian Rosenblum, executive director of the advocacy group, Education Trust-New York, told Newsday that maintaining high scoring standards is essential. The nonprofit group is supported in part by a foundation financed by software magnate Bill Gates.

DiBrango countered that the union holds high expectations for students, but believes the state scoring benchmarks used in the past “didn’t make sense.”

With Michael R. Ebert and Kathy Diamond

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