As students across the state in grades 3-8 have taken the New York State ELA exam this week, the buzz around the Common Core has really focused on testing and assessments.
The stakes around the exams are high, and for some higher than they need to be. Just as anything in regard to the Common Core, many misunderstandings have come about that are specific to the tests our children are taking. These misunderstandings have fueled an ever-growing opt-out movement, where parents are telling their children to refuse to take the test. It has reached a point where districts have had to put plans into place for those students refusing to test.
In an effort to help remedy those misunderstandings, below are a few commonly asked questions around the New York State assessments answered, taken in part from this NYSED fact sheet.
Does the Common Core require more testing?
No. The number of state tests administered since the Common Core was adopted has not changed. All required state tests (grades 3-8 ELA and math, grades 4 and 8 science, and Regents in ELA, math, science, US History, and Global) are federally required, except for US History & Government and Global & Geography. All others are determined locally.
Keep in mind that teachers should be assessing students on a regular basis. Whether they are formal or informal, assessments are needed to ensure students are learning and that instruction is effective. You can't have quality instruction without assessment.
Are teacher evaluations based solely on these tests?
No. Student growth on state tests only account for 20% of a teachers' accountability rating. That leaves 80% to locally determined measures, classroom observations, etc.
Why are state tests so important?
Assessments are directly tied to instruction. We cannot know if we are meeting our students' needs and helping them grow if we do not assess them. Assessments should happen in the classroom on a daily basis in order to give teachers the information they need to best teach their students.
What state tests do is give that same type of feedback but on a larger scale. We need to be able to see if all students in school or district are meeting the standards and, therefore, are getting that foundation needed to succeed in college or the workforce. If we did not have state assessments, parents and the public would not know the progress students are making. We also would not have the information needed to make larger decisions about curriculum.
Why are the tests so hard?
Well, the assessments reflect the rigor that the Common Core Standards require. If we want our students to be thoughtful, reflective learners, we have to engage them in rigorous tasks. If we are teaching in a manner that is rigorous and aligned with the standards, then the assessments should mirror that. Assessments that are rigorous will then show us what students know and can do, and we can then plan instruction accordingly.
One thing to note is that just because they are challenging doesn't mean they should be stressful. Teachers and parents should be supportive and affirming. There is nothing wrong will telling children that all they need to do is their best and recognize that it will be a challenge. If students understand the purpose of the assessments (to inform instruction), then the anxiety should diminish significantly.