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

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

In 2014 the Common Core English Language Arts and Math tests, for 3rd and 4th grade students, will require 70 minutes a day for 6 days (7 hours total).  For 5th graders, they will average 90 minutes each day (9 hours total).  And for some students with IEP’s, those times are doubled, meaning that they will spend 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.

2. The Department of Education has structured school report cards to pressure schools to focus on student test scores to the exclusion of other forms of assessment.

The Department’s policies make a focus on test-prep inevitable, since they place such a huge emphasis on the test scores: 85% of an elementary school’s report card grade is based upon its test scores.[1]

3. The NYC Teacher Data Reports released in 2012 were, by the admission of the NYC Department of Education itself,  highly unreliable. And yet, the city and state are instituting a system relying on the same type of data to evaluate teachers – with high-stakes outcomes, including loss of teachers’ jobs – in public schools across the state.

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.

4. 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]

5. 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 tests, because there are no direct consequences attached to performance on it. In other words, it is NOT a high stakes test, and 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.

6. 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 percent of students in these programs were black or Hispanic; now less than one-third 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 percent during Bloomberg’s reign. At Stuyvesant, the city’s most selective high school, the number of black students fell from 109 in 2000 to forty in 2012, out of more than 3,000 students. Only nine entered Stuyvesant in 2013.

7. 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 used 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.” NCS Pearson, the company developing the tests, is being paid more than $32 million over 5 years, to develop just the Math and ELA exams for New York State.NCS Pearson made more than $880 million in 2012 from its North American Education division.[4]

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

Once again, the State and City education authorities have announced that parents will not be allowed to look at the tests that are used for so many high stakes purposes, including determining whether children are required to attend summer school or repeat a grade. No one outside of the developers will be allowed to analyze the tests to check 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://gothamschools.org/2010/09/29/city-to-release-progress-reports-with-new-formula-lower-grades/ and http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/01/nyregion/01grades.html?_r=1&ref=nyregion
[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://www.pearson.com/new/2013/february/pearson-2012-results.html

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