Some standardized tests in New York public schools will be eliminated, state Education Commissioner John King has told superintendents in a surprising announcement that cites "a variety of pressures" that may have hurt instruction. The move comes after years of criticism from teachers, parents and other detractors, some of whom said it still fell short.
The first target will be an eighth-grade math test, which comes at the same time as a federally required standardized test in math, King states in a letter sent Thursday and obtained by The Associated Press.
The Board of Regents is considering eliminating that test and others where possible in other grades, King said. Some tests, however, are required by the federal government. Grants will be provided to help school districts reduce local standardized tests, the letter states.
"While the number and frequency of state assessments has remained relatively constant over the last decade (and is largely dictated by requirements in federal law), the Board of Regents, the State Education Department (SED), and I recognize that a variety of pressures at the state and local level may have resulted in more testing than is needed and in rote test preparation that crowds out quality instruction," King states in the letter.
King said the Board of Regents discussed the changes in a meeting this week.
The Superintendent of the West Genesee School District, Dr. Christopher Brown, says it's too little too late.
"Respectfully, I think it's a couple years too late. If you've been listening to parents, superintendents, and teachers they've been talking about what the commissioner said yesterday for the past two years," says Brown.
The President of the Westhill District Education Association, Gregg McCrea, says it's a small victory.
"I think the commissioner is changing the way he's listening to parents and teachers which is good. Change is hard as he noted and the governor's noted," says McCrea.
"Testing is an important part of the instructional cycle and necessary to monitor student academic progress and contribute to decisions at the classroom, school, district, and state levels," King told superintendents. "However, the amount of testing should be the minimum necessary to inform effective decision-making. Test results should be used only as one of multiple measures of progress, and tests should reflect our instructional priorities."
The change a decade of criticism by teachers, their unions and groups of parents aimed at the Board of Regents as it raised academic and teaching standards. Most recently, a group of parents and teachers have asked for King's resignation as he implements the national Common Core standards that further raise standards for students which effects teaching and teachers' job evaluations
The effort is too little and too late for Allies for Public Education, which called for King's resignation this week.
"Eliminating a few standardized tests is like touching up the paint on a car and expecting it will run when in fact it has a faulty engine," said the group's spokesman, Eric Mihelbergel. "Until the high-stakes nature of testing is removed and the collection of private personal student data is halted, our children will continue to be harmed."
Over-testing has had a perverse impact on education, demoralizing teachers and students, said the Alliance for Quality Education, one of the leading critics for more than a decade of the rise in testing.
King told superintendents that the first goal is to eliminate double testing for eighth-graders. Students taking accelerated math now take both the Regents algebra exam and the federally required Grade 8 Mathematics exam. The Board of Regents is directing King to secure a waiver to use only the Regents exam.
The immediate effort also looks at reducing tests for English language learners and for disabled students.
"Students are best prepared to succeed academically through rigorous and engaging instruction, not rote test preparation," King stated. "Teaching is the core of our work. The goal is not to create more tests or more teaching to the tests."
King said the Regents discussed this week "a comprehensive initiative to keep the focus on teaching."
"The Regents and the department will continue to look for ways to reduce testing that is not needed without sacrificing the valuable information assessments provide," King told the superintendents in more than 700 school districts. "We welcome your input."
On Thursday in Albany, King explained the state's effort in a community meeting. It was a revamped format after a similar effort in Poughkeepsie devolved into conflict. Parents and teachers had complained King hasn't listened to their concerns, although King has the support of the Board of Regents and Gov. Andrew Cuomo support's King's reforms.
The letter was confirmed by the state Education Department on Friday.
Thursday, King told an audience of parents and teachers the state is not going delay new Common Core learning reforms, but is open to "adjustments" going forward.
He spoke at forum in Albany, his first since an earlier series of planned appearances was cancelled after he was shouted down at a meeting in Poughkeepsie on Oct. 10.
There was no similar disruption at Thursday's event in an auditorium filled with hundreds of parents, students and teachers.