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Pencils down! Students run out of time on tests

Posted by keshiaclukey on May 9, 2013 at 7:35 PM

Pencils down! Students run out of time on tests

Rigorous state testing started last week


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Whitesboro fourth-grader Kyle Dillon always finishes his tests early.

But last week, the 10-year-old wasn't the first or the second in his class to complete the state English Language Arts test. He never finished the last question before time ran out.

"I only got two sentences down, so I'm pretty sure I'm not going to get as much points," the Westmoreland Road Elementary School student said. "It really stunk."

State testing for third- through eighth-graders began last week and continues today through Friday with math. The tests, which include the new Common Core Standards, are more rigorous, and some parents had threatened to opt out their students.

Last week, the number of students opting out, however, was significantly lower than what was expected, said Robert Lowry Jr., New York State Council of Superintendents deputy director for advocacy research and communications. Exact numbers are not yet available.

The real problem: Students not finishing the exams.

The time allotted for third- and fourth-grade students to complete the tests decreased from last year's 90 minutes per test to 70. A survey of superintendents said students were unable to finish the tests in the time allotted, said Lowry.

"I don't know how that will affect the results and whether that raises questions about the soundness of the test themselves," he said.

Common Core implementation began in September. Test scores are expected to drop 30 percent in the first year, Lowry said.

The Utica City School District didn't have any students opt out, but teachers said many students didn't have time to finish, said Sandy Paddock, testing, data analysis and planning administrator.

The time was decreased to address concerns that the test sessions were too long, and the new times were estimated based on last year's test and field tests, said state Education Department spokeswoman Antonia Valentine in an email.

But if students didn't finish, it could lower their scores, reflecting poorly on the district and teachers. The state uses test scores and graduation rates to decide a district's accountability and to calculate yearly progress.

Those with low scores are identified as Priority and Focus, and are required to create a comprehensive improvement plan and must set aside funding for state approved programs and services. There are several other restrictions and requirements of the district in order to get it on the right track to improvement.

The education department said it would not identify schools or districts as Focus or Priority based on the 2012-13 assessments, but they would be identified as Local Assistance Plan schools, which must develop an assistance plan.

But schools that don't make adequate yearly progress cannot become Reward schools, and are ineligible to receive the funding that comes with that designation.

The newly implemented teacher and principal evaluation systems also will reflect the lower scores, as they make up about 20 percent of the annual review. The impacts of the results will be up to each individual district.

In spite of his frustration with the lack of time, Kyle said he is learning.

"I've actually improved on the reading comprehensions over this year," he said.

Facing the math tests this week, Kyle said he's not as nervous.

"I find math a little easier than ELA," he said.

Budget Breakdown

The Utica City School District is facing a nearly $6.2 million budget deficit for the 2013-14 school year.

The nearly $139 million amended budget was approved unanimously April 2 by the Board of Education, and will go to public vote May 21. A public hearing will take place May 7.

It includes a 2 percent property tax increase and the elimination of 83 positions, 49 of which are teaching.


The budget originally eliminated 98.5 positions, 64.5 of which were teaching positions.

5.5 teaching positions, 3.5 secondary positions and two elementary, were added back after the district learned it would receive an additional $313,164 in state aid, not including building aid.

17 teachers decided to take the $14,000 retirement incentive negotiated with the Utica Teachers Association. Teachers laid off will be the first called back to fill the 17 positions, based on seniority and credentials.

The about $305,000 in savings from the incentive, along with a $407,000 recalculation of debt service interest, allowed the district to put nine teaching positions back in the budget — four English Language Arts, three math and two elementary.

Testing times


Taken by third- to eighth-graders statewide last week, the three-day test was 70 minutes each day for third- and fourth-graders, compared to the 90 minutes allotted last year.

Fifth- through eighth-graders were tested 90 minutes each day, the same as last year.


Testing for third- through eighth-graders runs today through Friday.

Third-graders have 70 minutes each day to take the test, compared to the 90 minutes allotted last year.

Fourth-graders have 70 minutes per day for two days, and 90 minutes for the third day, compared to the 90 minutes each day allotted last year.

Fifth- through eighth-graders are allotted 90 minutes each day.

Source: Sandy Paddock, Utica City School District Testing, Data Analysis and Planning administrator.

Common Core

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 and secures federal funding for each state, such as Race to the Top and Title I monies.

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.

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