Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

April 16, 2013

Tougher state tests start today

EDUCATION: State ELA and math tests are more rigorous, education leaders say.

BY JOE OLENICK
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Albany wants students throughout New York state to be ready for college and the workforce by the time they graduate high school. This week, students will take state assessments that now reflect that goal.

Students in third through eighth grade will take the annual state English language arts assessment this week, starting today through Thursday. Next week, the students will take the mathematics test, April 24 though 26.

The implementation of rigorous new English and math standards makes New York one of 45 states that have adopted the Common Core standards, a uniform set of benchmarks which include a dozen changes in the way students are taught. From kindergarten through 12th grade, the goal is building an educational foundation that supports a student’s future.

Royalton-Hartland Superintendent Kevin MacDonald and Curriculum and Assessment Director Sheila T. Murphy discussed the Common Core standards with Board of Education members Thursday.

”It’s not just about completion of high school anymore, it’s about preparation for the next level,” MacDonald said.

The math changes, or shifts as educators call it, include having students diving deeply into fewer, more in-depth concepts. The standards call for more attention to skill building, speed and accuracy. Kids will be expected to apply what they’ve learned.

English and language arts standards split reading more evenly between reading fiction and non-fiction. Students will have to read and understand more complex texts so they can write about what they read.

The idea is to have kids not just answer a question but explain how they got the answer.

”It’s a higher order of thinking,” said Jim Snyder, principal of North Park Junior High School in Lockport.

”The state has made it clear with us that students should grapple with more rigorous text,” said Tom Adams, Newfane Middle School principal. “We’ve seen more of that this year.”

Adams said kids could be given a technical piece on how an item would work instead of a short story or passage. The text would be more informative, so the test in theory would force a student to read a piece closer.

To help schools and teachers prepare for the new assessments, educators spent some time going over the Common Core prior to the start of the school year.

”A lot of work was done last summer,” Snyder said.

The website EngageNY gives sample questions and passages, as well as more information on the Common Core standards. State Education Commissioner John B. King even has a video on the new standards.

Changes are coming to the Regents and other state exams next year. By 2014-15, the goal is to have all assessments online. All of these changes, along with the Annual Professional Performance Review for teachers and principals, are a result of the federal Race To The Top initiative.

Adams said, as King does in the video, Albany is expecting a dramatic drop in test scores this year. Some are estimating as much as a 33 percent drop.

But, despite the growing pains the changes the Common Core brings, educators believe more rigor could be helpful in the future.

”In the long run, I think it’ll be a positive thing,” Snyder said.

”As long as it gives us information that can help kids, help us in the ways we instruct,” Adams said.

NEW YORK STATE TESTING FOR GRADES THREE THROUGH EIGHT • English Language arts, today through Thursday • Mathematics, April 24 through 26

Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241 or follow him on Twitter @joeolenick.