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Flying Under the Radar... Field Testing in Schools

If we are to truly give our students a better education system, we first must get rid of a flawed system built on testing.

This past week, many New York State students had to take field tests and my fourth grade students were one of the groups chosen. I'm sure it had nothing to do with this blog. I'm sure that there was some magical formula used to "choose" these schools.

Field tests are used to see if questions are too easy, too hard or just right. Think...Goldilocks and The Three Bears only with a testing twist. Most administrators understand that they may be subjected to, and ultimately their students, field tests that last one day for 45 minutes to an hour. The letter administrators receive is always very polite and they thank us for taking the tests...as if we have a choice.

The New York State Education Department does that very well. They thank us on every high stakes test for what we do for students. That is of course, with the warning on the first page that tells what will happen if we cheat on the state tests. For field tests, we open them up on the morning of the test and send them back out on the appropriate date. Field tests almost fly under the radar because they happen so quick.

My question is why do we need field tests? If state education departments, and ultimately the taxpayer, pay so much money for contracts with publishers like Pearson for high stakes test, why do students have to be subjected to another round of state testing? According to the Associate Press, "The education company Pearson has a $32 million contract with the state to develop tests"(Syracuse News). Don't publishers have experts who can determine which questions are too easy or too hard? In addition to that, states include field tests on high stakes testing and then (they say...) they throw out those harder questions that appear on the test.

We were fortunate to get "chosen" for field tests in the fall because most times our students are forced to take them the week after they finish two weeks of high stakes testing in ELA and math in the spring. Fourth graders usually have to complete field tests the week before they have to take the high stakes science test. Field testing is just another example in how high stakes testing has gotten out of control.

Pearson Gets a Spanking
"After dozens of embarrassing mistakes turned up on New York State's standardized tests given earlier this year, NY1 has learned that state officials have changed their contract with the company that produced them. Now, errors on those tests could cost the company millions of dollars in fines" (NY 1).

In mid-October, NY1 released an exclusive story that Pearson's contract with the New York State Education Department changed. This most likely was due to pressure coming from the fact that there were numerous mistakes on the high stakes tests given in the spring. New York Commissioner John King said, "We wanted to make sure, in our agreement with Pearson, it was clear what the quality standards would be for New York State and that there were consequences for Pearson if those standards were not met."

Considering the state education department pays 32 million dollars for that contract, wouldn't quality assurance be something agreed upon before the tests were created and not after? "If the state rejects 10 percent or more of the questions, fines start kicking in. This year, Pearson could face a maximum fine close to $2 million, nearly 30 percent of its total fee" (NY1). This all feels like a political spanking for Pearson to show that NY State won't just be tough on teachers and principals, but they will be tough on Pearson as well. Pearson is now facing accountability of their own.

In the End
Field testing is a blip on the radar. It comes and goes so fast that parents hardly know it happens and students just go through the motions of getting it over with so they can move on to something worthy. However, the sad reality is that this year has been very different for schools because of increased accountability and it's only October. Schools have spent the month of September doing pre-assessments hoping that students do horribly so they can show growth by the end of the year. And why wouldn't they do horribly, they are being tested on information they haven't learned yet.

Tony Sinanis, principal of National Blue Ribbon Award Winning Cantiague Elementary School on Long Island, New York writes to Dr. John King stating, "First of all, our children are feeling overwhelmed, stressed out and they are starting to doubt their own abilities and it is only October. Why? Maybe it is because they are being subjected to numerous difficult tests and tasks as a result of the expectations of the Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) that have recently been put in place.

Don't get me wrong - I know pre and post assessments are critical and that various data points (when properly analyzed) can be a powerful tool for guiding future instruction and personalizing learning; but, when is enough, enough? Do they really need to take a paper and pencil test in the gym in first grade as part of a Physical Education SLO? Or do they need to take the TerraNova in kindergarten as part of a literacy SLO? Or does a second grader need to take an online assessment as part of reading and mathematics SLOs that can go on for hours? Are these types of assessments really developmentally appropriate?"(Tony's Letter)

How many tests must our students be subjected to before state education departments see that it is not working? Are those policy makers and politicians in charge subjecting their own children to the outrageous number of high stakes tests, pre-tests, post tests and field tests? If we are to truly give our students a better education system, we first must get rid of a flawed system built on testing.

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