maryellen elia

Responding to opt-out movement, New York officials say state tests will be shorter

PHOTO: Creative Commons/timlewisnm

New York state tests given this school year will have fewer questions, state education officials said Wednesday.

Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said testmakers will remove reading and writing passages from the English tests given to third through eighth graders this year, and remove multiple-choice questions from the math tests. The changes are meant to address concerns of parents who are keeping their children from taking state tests, she said.

“One of the things that’s been a constant comment is that the assessments are long,” Elia told members of the Board of Regents on Wednesday.

Elia began as commissioner in July, and one of her top priorities has been to figure out a way to quell an opt-out movement that grew dramatically in New York state over the last school year, though less so in New York City. About one in five eligible students statewide did not take last year’s state tests, with families citing a range of concerns about test prep and teacher evaluations.

That has left Elia to try to assuage those concerns while maintaining the tests required by federal law and the Common Core standards that underpin the exams, which she strongly supports and which state officials say are necessary to continue improving education statewide.

In addition to reducing the number of test questions, Elia said the state is also moving to release all of the exam questions to the public, addressing another major complaint. The state has typically only released a portion of the test questions, and only after the school year is over, frustrating educators.

Elia said that questions would be released “as early as possible” next year, but stopped short of making promises about the timing.

“I will tell you that I don’t think, as an educator, that it’s ever early enough,” Elia said.

Elia said that a decision has not been made about how many questions would be removed from this year’s tests, and it was unclear whether the reductions would reduce the time students spend testing. Last year, the English tests took between three-and-a-half and four-and-a-half hours over three days, and the math tests ranged from just more than three hours to more than four hours over three days.

The tests the state will give next spring will be the last set of exams designed by Pearson, the controversial testmaker that has produced New York’s tests during the state’s rollout of new Common Core learning standards.

The tests given in 2017 will be designed by Questar, an assessment company that won New York’s main standardized testing contract earlier this year. Questar agreed to offer districts the option to give computer-based tests, which could provide teachers with their students’ results immediately.

On Wednesday, Elia said the Questar contract will enable the state to continue to shrink the tests. More than 290 teachers will be involved in developing and reviewing the assessments, up from 162, she added.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.