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Early results of New York’s Common Core survey are mostly positive

PHOTO: Patrick Wall

Most of the initial responses to New York’s Common Core survey have been positive, the state education commissioner said Monday.

The comprehensive survey, launched last month and continuing until Nov. 30, allows users to give feedback on every math and English standard from pre-kindergarten to twelfth grade. So far, more than 71 percent of responses have been positive, Elia told the Board of Regents — results she presented as an indication that there is more consensus around the standards than many realize.

“We’ve had so many people across the state that I’ve heard that have said, ‘Oh, I hate the standards,’ Elia said. “When they’ve gone onto the survey, however, we haven’t had an overwhelming number say they don’t like the standards.”

The survey is part of a legally mandated review of the Common Core standards, prompted by a growing anti-testing sentiment across the state and nationwide. New York is among 18 states taking a closer look at the standards, according to the Council of Chief State School Officers.

The early results of New York’s survey show that those who objected to standards most frequently criticized elementary reading standards, which some experts have called into question before. The standards for early grades drew more feedback than standards for the later grades.

Of the 5,500 respondents, more than 60 percent were teachers and 22 percent were parents. That means about 1.5 percent of New York teachers have responded to the survey so far.

Those results are in line with Common Core reviews from other states: In Kentucky, for example, more than 70 percent of negative responses were for standards in kindergarten through third grade. In Tennessee, most responses to individual standards were positive and from teachers.

Elia will present the survey findings next month to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has convened a separate commission to evaluate the standards and promised to recommend changes before the legislative session begins in January.

Elia used Monday’s presentation to reiterate her own position on the standards, which were designed to more closely align classroom teaching with the skills students need to eventually succeed in college or in the workforce. The standards also have been criticized for contributing to an overemphasis on standardized testing in New York.

Elia emphasized the negative consequences of too much test prep and recommended that specific problems with state tests be addressed, but stopped well short of promoting a complete overhaul of the standards.

“We have to, each year, review the data on this,” Elia said. “But the expectation is there, and I think that it’s reasonable … for us to get teachers understanding that this is where we have to move our students to.”

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McQueen declares online practice test of TNReady a success

PHOTO: Manuel Breva Colmeiro/Getty Images

Tennessee’s computer testing platform held steady Tuesday as thousands of students logged on to test the test that lumbered through fits and starts last spring.

Hours after completing the 40-minute simulation with the help of more than a third of the state’s school districts, Education Commissioner Candice McQueen declared the practice run a success.

“We saw what we expected to see: a high volume of students are able to be on the testing platform simultaneously, and they are able to log on and submit practice tests in an overlapping way across Tennessee’s two time zones,” McQueen wrote district superintendents in a celebratory email.

McQueen ordered the “verification test” as a precaution to ensure that Questar, the state’s testing company, had fixed the bugs that contributed to widespread technical snafus and disruptions in April.

The spot check also allowed students to gain experience with the online platform and TNReady content.

“Within the next week, the districts that participated will receive a score report for all students that took a practice test to provide some information about students’ performance that can help inform their teachers’ instruction,” McQueen wrote.

The mock test simulated real testing conditions that schools will face this school year, with students on Eastern Time submitting their exams while students on Central Time were logging on.

In all, about 50,000 students across 51 districts participated, far more than the 30,000 high schoolers who will take their exams online after Thanksgiving in this school year’s first round of TNReady testing. Another simulation is planned before April when the vast majority of testing begins both online and with paper materials.

McQueen said her department will gather feedback this week from districts that participated in the simulation.

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Tennessee students to test the test under reworked computer platform

PHOTO: Getty Images

About 45,000 students in a third of Tennessee districts will log on Tuesday for a 40-minute simulation to make sure the state’s testing company has worked the bugs out of its online platform.

That platform, called Nextera, was rife with glitches last spring, disrupting days of testing and mostly disqualifying the results from the state’s accountability systems for students, teachers, and schools.

This week’s simulation is designed to make sure those technical problems don’t happen again under Questar, which in June will finish out its contract to administer the state’s TNReady assessment.

Tuesday’s trial run will begin at 8:30 a.m. Central Time and 9 a.m. Eastern Time in participating schools statewide to simulate testing scheduled for Nov. 26-Dec. 14, when some high school students will take their TNReady exams. Another simulation is planned before spring testing begins in April on a much larger scale.

The simulation is expected to involve far more than the 30,000 students who will test in real life after Thanksgiving. It also will take into account that Tennessee is split into two time zones.

“We’re looking at a true simulation,” said Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, noting that students on Eastern Time will be submitting their trial test forms while students on Central Time are logging on to their computers and tablets.

The goal is to verify that Questar, which has struggled to deliver a clean TNReady administration the last two years, has fixed the online problems that caused headaches for students who tried unsuccessfully to log on or submit their end-of-course tests.


Here’s a list of everything that went wrong with TNReady testing in 2018


The two primary culprits were functions that Questar added after a successful administration of TNReady last fall but before spring testing began in April: 1) a text-to-speech tool that enabled students with special needs to receive audible instructions; and 2) coupling the test’s login system with a new system for teachers to build practice tests.

Because Questar made the changes without conferring with the state, the company breached its contract and was docked $2.5 million out of its $30 million agreement.

“At the end of the day, this is about vendor execution,” McQueen told members of the State Board of Education last week. “We feel like there was a readiness on the part of the department and the districts … but our vendor execution was poor.”

PHOTO: TN.gov
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen

She added: “That’s why we’re taking extra precautions to verify in real time, before the testing window, that things have actually been accomplished.”

By the year’s end, Tennessee plans to request proposals from other companies to take over its testing program beginning in the fall of 2019, with a contract likely to be awarded in April.

The administration of outgoing Gov. Bill Haslam has kept both of Tennessee’s top gubernatorial candidates — Democrat Karl Dean and Republican Bill Lee — in the loop about the process. Officials say they want to avoid the pitfalls that happened as the state raced to find a new vendor in 2014 after the legislature pulled the plug on participating in a multi-state testing consortium known as PARCC.


Why state lawmakers share the blame, too, for TNReady testing headaches


“We feel like, during the first RFP process, there was lots of content expertise, meaning people who understood math and English language arts,” McQueen said. “But the need to have folks that understand assessment deeply as well as the technical side of assessment was potentially missing.”