Who Benefits From State Exams?

Assessment has an important role in student growth. Reflection can be powerful. The question parents need to ask is, “What is the actual purpose of the New York State Common Core exams?” Seriously, for parents who say you can’t opt out when life gets hard, which seems to be the “Opt In” rally call, I ask, “What did you child get on last year’s exam? What were they good at and what did they need to improve?

What exactly is the benefit for students, parents, and teachers? The stakeholders receive far too little information in regards to the results, and consequently the needs of the students taking the exams. Assessment guides instruction in education, however the state only gives a score of 1, 2, 3, or 4. From the EngageNY website – “Performance Level: Students are assigned a Performance Level based on how they perform on the test. There are four possible performance levels: NYS Level 1, NYS Level 2, NYS Level 3, and NYS Level 4”. We have become a nation obsessed with numbers. What practical information does that give stakeholders? Educators and parents already know the strengths and weaknesses of the child. Truthfully, these tests were never about children. Educators weren’t involved in the creation of these exams. Corporations make them, for a profit.

When I was a new teacher fresh out of college I began my career with a lot of exuberance and noble ideas. I worked long hours planning out my lessons thinking extensively about the material that I was going to teach. In spite of this, as much as I poured my soul into planning, the lesson rarely went the way that I anticipated. The human equation almost always demanded that I adapt the delivery of my plans to fit the cognitive and emotional needs of my students.

Good teachers adapt what they intend to teach in order to meet the needs and abilities of the student. This is by no means a simple process. It is difficult and messy at times. Growth and change rarely come easy.

Real learning occurs in the back and forth negotiation between teacher and student. The feedback that a teacher receives from her students is vital in the context of growth. There are many pathways to assessment that a teacher utilizes to gain this feedback about a student’s abilities and needs. Equipped with this feedback new plans are created and once again adapted. This feedback is crucial in order to address the needs of the student.

I suggest that Pearson, the current corporation that made the NYS Common Core exams, is like a new teacher detached from the human element and hasn’t learned to adapt. Corporations developing these exams are forging ahead with their own agenda irrespective of child development and the feedback which the opt out movement, made up of parents and teachers, has given them for the last five years.

I have been teaching at the elementary level in NY for 20 years. I have observed first hand how the New York State exams have evolved. Prior to Common Core, students were only administered State tests in fourth grade and eighth grade. The ELA and math tests took two days each. The results were returned to the schools that same year. Back then the schools received detailed information on which items their students answered correctly and which were incorrect. For items that the students got wrong, the results identified a strategy that the student was having difficulty with. This was useful information for stakeholders. For example, in ELA the analysis informed educators whether a student was having trouble identifying the main idea of a text, applying inferential thinking, understanding vocabulary, etc. This was concrete information that identified the needs of a student, although in most cases the student’s teacher already gleaned this information from their daily classroom interaction.  Years ago the exams were fair. The reading passages were on grade level with perhaps one passage above grade level.  The questions were more appropriate with a few higher-level questions included to see which students were comprehending on an advanced level.  Today’s tests have passages that are almost always above grade level and the questions are ambiguous and confusing.

I originally asked what you learned from last year’s state test, “What was your child good at, and what did they need to improve?” Here is the suggestion from EngageNY.  Ask your child’s teacher. Why do they have this posted on their website? Because you won’t receive this information from the corporate exam.

As per the EngageNY website-
“We encourage you to work with your child’s teachers and other educators to put together a plan to specifically target what your child learns and how he or she learns best. If you are concerned by your child’s overall score, or by your child’s performance on a specific subscore, we encourage you to:
• Ask your child’s ELA teacher about which skills your child finds most challenging.
• Review with your child his or her ELA class work and homework to see how he or she is progressing in the same skills.
• Talk to your child’s ELA teacher and/or the principal to see if your child may need additional, targeted support to improve these skills.
• Advocate for your child to receive additional support as needed. Students whose Performance Level is either NYS Level 1 or NYS Level 2 may be eligible for academic interven on services (AIS) from their schools.”  (The schools know who these students are and they are already receiving AIS services.  Receiving this information from a state test at the end of June to identify services is just rediculous.)

Today in the 21st Century there are huge profits to be made from tracking data. Corporations are competing with one another for your data, which is more commonly being bought and sold. The minute that your child is reduced to a data point, then you know that the human element is irrelevant.

Learning occurs through the interaction between a student and a teacher. Children develop at different rates and have vastly different needs. Corporations that put together standardized tests lack this basic understanding. They are not interested in the needs of children. We can no longer afford to keep investing so much time, money and resources in these assessments that have such little value. New York has wasted five years with these developmentally inappropriate exams and the results do not justify the cost. The New York State Common Core exams have no useful purpose for students, parents, or teachers. It’s time for New York to let their own teachers make an exam that benefits students and drives real instruction.

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