10 Facts (you might not know) about testing in NYC

  1. Elementary school children are spending tremendous amounts of time taking standardized tests.

In 2015, the Common Core English Language Arts and Math tests will look much like last year: for 3rd and 4th grade students, they will require almost 70 minutes a day for 6 days (6 hours, 40 min total). For 5th graders, they will average 90 minutes most days (8 hours 40 min total). And for some students with IEP’s, those times are doubled, meaning that they will spend close to 3 hours each day, for 6 days, taking tests. For the sake of comparison: the SATs are 3 hours and 45 minutes; the LSATs are 3 hours and 20 minutes; the MCATs are 5 hours and 20 minutes.

  1. While schools are no longer allowed to use student test scores as the only method of assessment for students, high stakes remain in place for teachers.

And the outcome of this is that, across the city and state, many experienced teachers are contemplating leaving the profession.[1] Ask the best teachers at your child’s school how the testing explosion has affected their work and ability to educate your child.

  1. Governor Cuomo is proposing legislation that will force all New York state districts to count student test scores as 50% of teachers’ effectiveness rating. However, the NYC Teacher Data Reports released in 2012 – using the same method of tying test scores to teachers’ effectiveness – were, by the admission of the NYC Department of Education itself, highly unreliable.

As reported in the New York Times, those Teacher Data Reports had a 35-53% margin of error. If your doctor told you his scale was off by 30 pounds (in either direction), would you follow his advice to go on a diet? Would you trust a doctor who used such a scale? And because test questions are not being released to the public, there is no way to judge if these increasingly high-stakes measures tell us anything at all about what students truly know.

  1. Experts in educational evaluation agree that high-stakes testing undermines actual education.

In its 2011 report to Congress, the National Academy of Sciences committee that Congress commissioned to review the nature and implications of America’s test-based accountability systems concluded, “There are little to no positive effects of these systems overall on student learning and educational progress, and there is widespread teaching to the test and gaming of the systems that reflects a wasteful use of resources and leads to inaccurate or inflated measures of performance.”[2]

  1. Low-stakes standardized tests exist and have been in place for a long time. These tests are ones that educational experts have found to be valid and reliable, and are used only for the purposes for which they were intended.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is a standardized test administered by the federal government to a random sampling of students from around the nation. Because the scores are completely confidential (it is illegal to identify a student who took the test) and because it does not report scores by school, but only by state and district, the NAEP scores are considered the “gold standard” of test scores. There is no incentive to cheat or prepare for the NAEP test because there are no direct consequences attached to performance on it. In other words, it is NOT a high-stakes test, so scores on it reflect the actual state of learning of those who took it, not whether they spent the last six weeks prepping for it.

  1. New York City’s emphasis on high-stakes testing has increased racial and economic disparities in access to education.

In 2008, the Bloomberg administration began using a blunt cut score to determine admission to gifted and talented programs instead of the previous standard, which included teacher recommendations and other measures of performance. In 2006, 53% of students in these programs were black or Hispanic; now less than 1/3 are. The story is the same in the specialized high schools. At Bronx Science, the share of black students dropped from 9% to 3.5% during Bloomberg’s reign. At Stuyvesant, the city’s most selective high school, the number of black students fell from 109 in 2000 to 40 in 2012, out of more than 3,000 students. Only 7 entered Stuyvesant in the fall of 2014.

  1. States where high-stakes testing were implemented early and aggressively are now seeing a backlash against them as the repercussions for teaching and learning become clear.

Texas was the first state to use high-stakes testing on a massive scale and served as the model for the national “No Child Left Behind Act,” which required all states to institute high stakes testing. Texas is now experiencing a major backlash against it across the state. The state education commissioner, Robert Scott, said the mentality that standardized testing is the “end-all, be-all” is a “perversion” of what a quality education should be. More than 840 Texas school districts (82% of all districts, representing 89% of all students) have passed a resolution calling for an end to the overuse of standardized testing in the state.[3] Responding to this outcry, the state legislature has proposed legislation to drastically reduce the amount of standardized testing.

  1. Your children are being put to work for the profit of a large corporation.

One reason for the astonishing amount of testing time is that NCS Pearson, the for-profit company developing the tests, has embedded “field test questions” in the tests. They are not used to score students – they are being “tested out” to see if they can be used in future tests. In other words, your children are providing a free service for NCS Pearson, a company worth billions of dollars. The Department of Education has not requested that parents consent to their children being used as research subjects for a for-profit corporation.

  1. Testing is big business.

The Texas State Commissioner of Education, Robert Scott, called “the assessment and accountability regime” not only “a cottage industry but a military-industrial complex.” The testing market has grown 57% over the last three years, to a $2.5 billion industry. NCS Pearson, the company developing the tests in New York and other states, posted net income of $854 million in 2013.[4]

  1. You are not allowed to see the tests used to evaluate your children.

Outside of a few samples questions, parents are not allowed to look at the tests that are used to assess their children’s academic proficiency, and for so many other high-stakes purposes. Only the developers are allowed to analyze the tests to decide whether they are fair and appropriate for children – a policy that is based solely on financial reasoning. This is a major departure from testing policy in past decades.

[1] Source: http://neatoday.org/2014/11/02/nea-survey-nearly-half-of-teachers-consider-leaving-profession-due-to-standardized-testing-2/

[2] Source: http://www.statesman.com/opinion/insight/standardized-tests-with-high-stakes-are-bad-for-2230088.html

[3]Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jason-stanford/the-texas-antitesting-rev_b_1937341.html

[4] Source: http://fortune.com/2015/01/21/everybody-hates-pearson/

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