New standardized exams are set to be administered to New York elementary and middle-school students, and teachers, principals and education officials are already predicting an apocalypse. The expectation among those in the know is that the scores will register a substantial drop from the year before.
The culprit is the new exam. Students between grades 3 and 9 will be taking a test that is much different – and more rigorous – than the exams they have been taking in the past few years. Although everyone accepts the inevitability of a decline, opponents of the exam are still protesting that the state was too rash in imposing the new student assessment regime.
However, it doesn't seem like the government had much choice. New York is one of the states that has committed to fully implementing the new Common Core Standards, which meant that new tests were needed to see how well the students were progressing with the tougher material and thus were going to be adopted eventually.
U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan made the adoption of the Common Core a requirement of his Race to the Top grant competition. New York adopted the standards early – part of the reason it won a $700 million grant.
In English language arts, there is a focus on understanding and writing about complex, non-fiction texts. In math, the emphasis is on deeper understanding of concepts and their practical application. The new tests will include more difficult reading passages, more complicated math problems and more open-ended questions that require students to go into depth in their answers.
Still, New York is one of the few states that are set to adopt the CCS-based exams this year. This has some stakeholders wondering "What's the rush?" After all, there's no harm in waiting another year to give both teachers and students more time to adjust, especially taking into account the experience in Kentucky, where CCS exams were administered for the first time last year.
To the surprise of absolutely no one, the scores took a dive as a result.
NYSUT supports the new standards, but says it is unfair to teachers and students to impose the high-stakes tests now.
The union surveyed more than 1,600 teachers in November and reported that only a third said they had access to textbooks aligned with the new standards. That includes about half of elementary English teachers and 26 percent of math teachers.