New York state education officials plan to eliminate an 8th grade math test and will look at cutting out other exams, Commissioner of Education John King announced Oct. 25, according to the Associated Press. The news comes after a rough month for both King and standardized testing in general in the Empire State.
According to the Oct. 24 letter King wrote announcing the decision, the move to eliminate an 8th grade math test only applies to students who are in accelerated math classes. Those students, instead of taking both the Board of Regents exam in algebra and the 8th grade mathematics test, would from now on have to take only the algebra test. So the decision to eliminate this "double testing" doesn't apply to all 8th graders. The state also announced that it would offer grants to help districts reduce testing where necessary and to support strong instructional practices under the Common Core State Standards.
I wrote last week about how King's decision to restart a series of forums on the Common Core State Standards, after canceling them in the face of a boisterous Oct. 10 meeting, wouldn't really ease the pressure on King and the New York state education department. Teachers' unions and other groups are insisting that the testing regimen based upon the standards is the real problem, and that unless teachers get a three-year break from being evaluated based on students' scores on those tests, King should be replaced.
The same dynamic could be at work here. King and the state Board of Regents are responding (at least on the surface) to mounting concerns about high-stakes testing in the state. But will it be enough to give them some breathing room and allow them to form a political consensus without sacrificing the importance of the common-core aligned tests?
Here's King in that letter: "Of course, 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. However, the amount of testing should be the minimum necessary to inform effective decision-making."
King is caught between the demands of the U.S. Department of Education, which when bargaining with states over waivers from No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top grants, has required them to base teachers' evaluations in part on student results on standardized exams, and the powerful New York State United Teachers and United Federation of Teachers (the Gotham teachers' union).
Those unions, along with vigorous anti-high-stakes testing advocates in the state, think that the proficiency drops on common-core aligned tests given in the 2012-13 school year are just a preview of an educational dystopia to come in which students, teachers, and parents are sacrificed on the altar of supposed college- and career-readiness.