Opt-out leaders are making their final robocalls. Proponents of the state tests are winding down an expensive “Say Yes to the Test” campaign. Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña is asking parents to prepare their children’s favorite meals.
That means it’s testing time for New York students in grades 3-8. English exams start Tuesday, and math exams begin April 13.
In a final plea to parents on Monday, Fariña said tests are an important yardstick for student success and questioned whether boycotting tests sends the wrong message.
“What are you saying about your child? What are you saying about challenges in life?” she asked. “What are you saying about your belief in them to do something they’ve been gearing for all year long?”
As the debates continue, here is your cheat sheet.
Do the tests even matter anymore? What are they used for?
- They matter less than they once did.
- State policymakers have reduced their influence on teacher evaluations. Meanwhile, the de Blasio administration has reduced the tests’ influence on school ratings and decisions about whether students move on to the next grade.
- But they still matter for the city’s struggling schools and for students looking to be admitted to selective schools, many of which still look at state test scores.
Why is there so much controversy about state tests?
- Over the last several years, the tests became more difficult to pass, just as the stakes for teachers and schools grew. The state began tying teacher evaluations to test scores, and the city looked closely at results when deciding to close schools.
- Opposition to those changes grew over the last year, especially across the rest of New York state. Critics argue teachers have been forced to narrow their curriculum to focus on test preparation.
- Many teachers are frustrated by the continued emphasis on testing. Others see the tests as helpful.
What’s new this year?
- The exams are created by Pearson and designed to measure students’ grasp of the Common Core learning standards. So they’re unlikely to surprise educators (though odd passages, like the infamous 2012 “Hare and Pineapple” questions, are always possible).
- The tests will be slightly shorter this year.
- But students could end up spending more time on the tests since they’ll have unlimited time to complete them — a change meant to reduce student stress.
What’s the deal with opt-out?
- One in five students statewide opted out of the exams last year. That number was substantially lower in New York City.
- Statewide, opt-out students were more likely to be white and less likely to be poor, and liberal areas in Brooklyn and Manhattan saw the city’s highest opt-out numbers.
- Since then, leaders of the the opt-out movement have become more involved in state politics. They still want substantially shorter tests with no consequences.
- Meanwhile, the state’s new chancellor-elect said she would opt her own child out of the tests. Chancellor Fariña and State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia have both said they dislike the movement, but have made some concessions. Fariña said that in a few specific cases, opting out made sense.
What about next year?
- The tests are set for a total overhaul for 2017. The state’s testing contract is being handed over to a new company, Questar Assessment.
- Before that, the state is convening more educators to review the Common Core standards and recommend revisions. One timeline would have state tests reflect those new standards in 2018.
- It’s unlikely that there will be any consequences for schools or districts with a big share of students that opt out, but that could change next year.