Standards should guide instruction but should not drive an over-emphasis on standardized assessments. Teachers need to be able to differentiate instruction and teach to the needs of the students, not to the test itself. A de-emphasis on high-stakes testing will allow teachers to fully implement more experiential, authentic work that accurately and reliably reflects student learning.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced many statewide assessments to be shortened or canceled for two years in a row. After two years without required, regular state tests, it’s time to look at state standards and assessments in a broader way.
Despite progress made in recent years, educators in New York continue to face enormous pressure to “teach to the test” in order to raise student test scores on statewide standardized assessments. Teachers regularly report that classroom instruction is almost solely focused on grades 3-8 statewide student assessments in order to avoid the punitive consequences of high-stakes tests for both individuals and for schools through receivership. As a result of this over-emphasis, students are often labeled early in the year, separated from the rest of their class, and sentenced to the drudgery of practice ELA and math tests at the expense of other learning opportunities in subjects such as social studies, science and the arts.
We started the year one stop from receivership so all the students who scored 2s on the state tests, and were known as easy to work with and ‘behaved,’ were slated for pull-out services to ensure ...
High-stakes tests lead to a downward spiral
We started the year one stop from receivership so all the students who scored 2s on the state tests, and were known as easy to work with and ‘behaved,’ were slated for pull-out services to ensure we had enough students move from 2-3 to keep us out of receivership. We did the same with the 1s, because we needed enough 1-2 movement as well.
This plan consumed our school academic support staff – reading teachers, coaches, specialists – who weren’t able to work with our younger, K-2 students in need. This set up a continuing cycle of students who aren’t receiving the services they need in grades K-2, increasing the chances they won’t perform at grade level on the tests once they hit third grade.
This over-emphasis on high-stakes testing also affects staffing. When a school is facing receivership, many teachers apply to transfer out due to the uncertainty, fear and excessive paperwork obligations that come when your school is designated for receivership.
What that results in is a downward spiral. The receivership school loses experienced teachers, the very people the students need to bridge the academic gap the tests pointed out in the first place.”
~ Jason Valenti, Rochester Teachers Association
New York should repeal the receivership law to allow schools to better meet the individual needs of students and preserve a rich learning experience for all kids. Educators should be free to dedicate themselves to students and communities without the threat of involuntary, automatic transfers which disrupt year-to-year staff consistency and hamper strong relationships between school staff, students and families. Additionally, high stakes testing should no longer be required to be tied to individual teacher evaluation.
The Task Force supports substantive changes to the federally mandated grades 3-8 test scoring benchmarks to ensure the tests provide an accurate picture of student progress. The current benchmarks are invalid and mislabel kids. In addition, the tests should be developmentally appropriate, authentic and shorter.
High-stakes tests do not provide timely, meaningful data and simply do not meet the needs of families and educators. Teacher-generated, locally developed assessments are more authentic systems of assessment than high-stakes assessments crafted by corporate testing companies.
New York should make changes to the statewide grades 3-8 assessments, including making tests shorter and more developmentally appropriate, supporting efforts at the federal level to allow grade-span testing in lieu of grade-by-grade testing, and allowing locally determined screening and progress-monitoring assessments, that schools may already administer throughout the school year, to be used to meet federal mandates. These assessments provide more timely, reliable feedback to teachers and parents to monitor student progress and inform instruction. The Task Force recommends that NYSUT continue to work with NEA and AFT to secure changes to the federal testing mandate to allow these changes at the state level.
Not all children show mastery through traditional tests. The Task Force supports providing students with alternative methods to show that they meet graduation requirements – including approaches that focus on project-based instruction and the cultivation of true competency – in lieu of the current exam requirements.
The Task Force supports the State Education Department’s ongoing review of New York’s high school graduation requirements and the development and implementation of authentic assessments that focus on project-based instruction and the cultivation of true competency in a variety of subject areas.