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Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Secret Field Tests

How N.Y. is testing parents’ patience 

What they haven't told you about field exams that students took this week

Did you know that our students were subjected to field tests again last week? Probably not. The New York State Education Department doesn’t do an adequate job of informing parents about them.

But there are four things every parent and taxpayer should know about these tests.

First, understand their purpose. The state orders field testing to try out material for the English Language Arts and math exams that will be given next April, directly helping the testing company produce 2013’s statewide exams. This, in the eyes of the Education Department, is worth sacrificing many thousands of hours of net classroom time.

In June, a first round of stand-alone field testing took place for third- through eighth-graders around the state. In September, the Education Department quietly assigned 157 city schools to last week’s second volley of field tests.
Didn’t know that? Now you do. Which brings us to the second important fact that’s often kept from the public.
Namely, parents do not have to subject their children to field tests — and I believe there’s a strong case for opting out.
After all, the results are of no direct value to students, who get nothing for the time they spend working on the items.
Meantime, our students’ loss is a win-win for the test publisher, Pearson, which charges millions for the tryouts and for the exams that emerge from the process.

Obviously, Pearson and state officials have a strong incentive for parents not to opt out — but city parents have had other ideas. Before the June field tests, concerned about excessive testing and the high-stakes decisions the results were being misused to support, many rallied to protest and boycott the tests.

Perhaps anticipating fresh blowback, SED officials became more secretive this time around. They didn’t post anything on their Web site indicating how many test forms or what kind of items (multiple-choice or open-ended) were being tried out per grade.

Had parents known which schools were involved, I believe many, if not most, would have refused to let their sons and daughters take part . By not telling them what was coming, the state simply imposed the field tests and avoided having to deal with the risks of informed parental consent.

A third and broader problem regards the fundamental nature of stand-alone field tests — which, even from the perspective of those who think high-stakes testing has some merit, is a very poor way to develop new items.
The basic problem remains student motivation. Kids generally know these disjointed tests have no consequences for them. They have been numbed by too much testing. They simply don’t care enough to do their best.

Unless the state’s objective is to measure the achievement of disinterested students, the end product cannot be valid. Stand-alone field tests are a nonstarter — the weakest link in the statewide testing program.

Fourth and finally, parents should understand that there are contractual issues beneath the surface of these field tests.
More than 20 field tests per grade, never specified in the state’s five-year $32 million agreement with Pearson, were administered in June, plus the untold number just given. The overrun will cost additional tax dollars. The department has not said how much.

The lack of information begs the question: Why is so much being hidden from exposure?

The state’s policy seems to be the less said and the less known, the better. A better course would be for the state to be forthright and candid about the entire process, call a moratorium on a deranged program and get its act together about testing.

Smith, a testing specialist and consultant, was an administrative analyst for the New York City public schools

The National Education Association Pumps Money Into 5 States As The Presidential Race Ends

NEA Makes Last-Minute Money Dump into State Campaigns


The National Education Association hasn’t been stingy with its funding for and against state ballot initiative campaigns, but it took the opportunity to make one more infusion of cash into measures in five states where it has a vested interest in the outcome.
* Up to $1.24 million to Idaho, where the union is trying to eliminate new laws on collective bargaining rights and merit pay.
* $900,000 to Michigan, where the union is not only trying to get collective bargaining enshrined in the state constitution, but is also determined to defeat a measure designed to make tax increases more difficult to enact.
* $500,000 to Florida, presumably to defeat an amendment that the union believes wouldopen the door to statewide school vouchers.
* $250,000 to Washington to defeat a charter school initiative.
* $160,000 to South Dakota, where the union wants to derail the enactment of laws on teacher tenure and evaluation.