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Missing and unlabeled pages on state English exams cause confusion

Errors in test booklets gave New York students a confusing start to the second day of state English exams on Wednesday.

The pages typically designated for students to use for planning their essays were missing for some grades and mislabeled for others, though the test instructions still told students to take advantage of that space. Though the error wasn’t as severe as other issues that have bedeviled New York’s state exams in the past, teachers said it was destabilizing for students — and added to simmering frustrations about the tests.

Schools received notice of the errors as testing was beginning. Some district principals got warning from a local testing coordinator just after 8:30 a.m. A few minutes after 9 a.m., district and charter school principals received an email from a deputy state education commissioner acknowledging flaws in the testing booklets.

“We were already two minutes into testing when we received notice from the state,” said Darlene Cameron, principal of P.S. 63 in the East Village. “And tests were already being distributed in our classrooms when we got the email from the city.”

The testing booklets for fourth, sixth, seventh, and eighth grades contained blank pages at the end of the booklet that weren’t labeled as planning pages, while third and fifth-grade test booklets had no extra pages.

At P.S. 63, administrators interrupted testing to notify teachers of the missing pages. Some teachers directed students to the pages at the end of the booklet for planning, while others handed out scrap paper.

But not every school got the message in time. At at least one Manhattan middle school, teachers were unaware of the change allowing scrap paper and worried about deviating from the state’s proctoring rules to provide any.

On Wednesday, frustrated teachers said they worried students may have neglected to plan their essays because of the snafu.

“Especially for students with special needs, a last-minute change that large in the structure of the test could have a huge impact on that student’s score,” said Megan Moskop, an eighth-grade teacher at M.S. 324.

“We place a lot of emphasis on planning for extended response,” said Cameron. “All of our students, and particularly our students with IEPs, need to be able to think about what they will write and organize the details and essay structure during the planning phase.”

Pearson, the testmaker behind the content of the exams, said Wednesday that the company was not to blame.

“Pearson had no role in the printing, production or administration of the spring 2016 3 through 8 New York state assessments,” spokesman Scott Overland said.

State education officials did not respond immediately to further questions Wednesday. The state tests are set for an overhaul for 2017.

“We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you and we thank you for your hard work on behalf of the students in New York State,” the state’s notice said.