Keshia Clukey

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Putting the test to the test

Posted by keshiaclukey on May 9, 2013 at 7:30 PM

Putting the test to the test

Educators, students approach Common Core exams with trepidation

BY KESHIA CLUKEY

[email protected]

Many students across the state began taking standardized tests this week.

Tom Snizek's fourth-grader was not one of them.

He and his wife decided to opt out their daughter from testing at Myles Elementary School in New Hartford.

His main issue: the new Common Core Standards.

"There wasn't enough time for the test," Snizek said. "It's putting added stress on the teachers; it's putting added stress on the administration; it's putting added stress on the Board of Education, and it's especially putting added stress on the kids.

"My kid is not going to be a guinea pig on a state exam that hasn't been pre-tested."

Snizek, a private consultant for state assessments and a high school teacher, had concerns over what he calls the lack of development and field testing the exam was given.

Snizek is one of more than 90 members of the Facebook group, Opt Out CNY, which provides support for those choosing to withdraw their students from standardized testing.

Adopted in January 2011, Common Core standards serve as a consistent set of expectations for what students should learn and be able to do to ensure they are on track for college and career readiness, according to the state Department of Education.

Its implementation secures federal funding, such as Race to the Top and Title I monies.

The statewide testing for third- through eighth-graders began Tuesday with English Language Arts. Math is next week.

Teachers, parents and education experts are concerned about the "high-stakes testing," which could determine teacher and student success, and could lower test scores across the board.

Implementation of the curriculum began in September, but many are asking: Is it too soon to test?

"Common Core has the potential to enhance student learning by putting a greater focus on critical thinking skills and using document-based research in answering more difficult questions. … That potential is being jeopardized," said Carl Korn, New York State United Teachers spokesman. "Test scores are going to plummet and students and teachers are going to pay the price. It's high-stakes testing."

Third-grader Ajdin Karajic didn't know what this week's test would bring.

"I know a lot of reading and a lot of questions, and it might be hard for some people and some not," said the 8-year-old student at Roscoe Conkling Elementary School in Utica.

When asked how he was feeling, Ajdin said: "Kind of shocked and scared that I may fail. It's kind of too much to ask."

The state Department of Education said it is vital to test quickly because the longer it takes to implement the standards, the more students will leave schools unprepared.

Over the past two years, districts have been working with the state to ensure their staff is trained properly to teach the new standards.

"Our region is well prepared and certainly very involved in the implementation," said Kathy Houghton, New York Mills Union Free School District superintendent. "The whole idea of the Common Core is to push kids and encourage kids to think at new and deeper levels. … That's a very positive thing."

"I think we're as ready as we can be," she said about this year's tests.

Still, test scores are expected to drop.

The in-depth nature of the curriculum as well as the fact that the program has just started has left gaps, said Amee Zbytniewski, New York Mills second-grade teacher and ambassador helping districts learn about the curriculum.

"There's not enough time this year to close those gaps," she said. "This should be alleviated over time as students go through several grades with the new curriculum."

This year, it'll be a learning experience, she said.

Many districts use standardized testing to determine which students move to the next grade and which require accelerated or remedial services, Korn said. As for teachers, test scores are part of the newly implemented teacher-principal evaluation systems.

Mark Vivacqua, Herkimer-Fulton-Hamilton-Otsego BOCES district superintendent, said it's a necessary transition.

"Scores are going to go down. As long as we understand that, I don't see any necessity in delaying," Vivacqua said. "We're going to have a new baseline and it's going to be lower, but then we'll be able to monitor our progress."

He said there will be no adverse effect on children.

"The content of the Common Core itself is exactly the right direction for New York state," Vivacqua said. "I think it's the kind of assessment we've been asking for."

CAPTION EXTRAS:

Mackenzie Spizer, 8, a third-grader at Conkling said her teachers and parents have been working with her to make sure she’s prepared. Lessons included showing work with math problems, and remembering to look back in the stories to find the answers, Mackenzie said. Still, she’s nervous. "It’s a big test and it’s my first time," Mackenzie said.

Conkling third-grade teacher Selma Sewall is "not a fan" of the tests, saying it can take away creativity for teachers and students. "Instead of teaching the love of learning, we may be doing the opposite."

Common Core breakdown

The state Common Core Standards were adopted by the Board of Regents in January 2011.

The changes were made to create a more standardized education in schools and increase students’ college and career readiness. The new curriculum is more rigorous and delves deeper into topics. It also includes ongoing professional development of staff, shifts in instruction and new assessments to measure student progress.

Implementation officially began in September. This week, students in third through eighth grade are taking the English Language Arts tests that are aligned to the Common Core. They will take the math exams next week. The curriculum changes won’t be reflected in the state exams for ninth through 12 grades until next school year.

For information, visit www.engageny.org.

Sources: Carl Korn, New York State United Teachers spokesman; New York State Education Department ; EngageNY.org

Core standards a national effort

*Nationally, 46 states as well as Washington, D.C., have adopted the Common Core Standards. Kentucky tested the new standards last year and scores dropped 30 to 35 percent. New York is testing this year. All other states plan to test in 2014.
*Implementation secures federal funding for each state, such as Race to the Top and Title I monies.


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