Commissioner MaryEllen Elia
NYS Commissioner of Education
New York State Education Department
89 Washington Avenue
Albany, New York 12234
Dear Commissioner Elia,
On behalf of our members, SAANYS would like to share their frustration with the rollout of computer-based testing this week. The problems encountered this week reveal serious and continued problems with the New York State assessment system. We would like to summarize three areas of concern based on input from our members. We will not address the multitude of technical problems with logons or server shortcomings, but rather provide feedback from our members that may lead to strategies to be utilized going forward.
Concern for School/Administrator Credibility
Many of our surveyed administrators expressed concern about their credibility within the community. Many of them have worked diligently on increasing student participation on state assessments. During this week they tried to be as communicative as possible to assuage parental concerns. On day one and two, our members indicated that they wrote clarifying letters to parents that went home with students at the normal closing time. However, information from the New York State Education Department (NYSED) came out after closing time, rendering the district’s communications almost instantly outdated. This was widely perceived as being insensitive to the realities of parent communication at the building level, and had the unintended effect of undermining the credibility of many building principals. Unfortunately the public view on state assessments will likely not be favorable, and regaining public trust will be difficult. It may be helpful for the department to immediately call in a group of principals, superintendents and parents to discuss short term communication strategies.
Impact on Student Scores
Principals responding to a short survey disseminated by SAANYS have expressed concern about individual student’s CBT test scores. Fairness and erring on the side of students is critical. The scores of fatigued and stressed students, with incomplete tests or tests identified as not taken, but that were actually completed, are of great concern. Of equal concern is how inconsistent administrative processes across the state will impact student scores. There were hundreds of embargoed computers, inconsistent guidance and uneven district capacities to deal with downed systems. Data from this CBT cycle will remain suspect and should be discounted.
Long Term Impact on Accountability Status
After decisions regarding individual student scores are made, there will be long term decisions that will need to be made on how to adjust the accountability system to deal with this situation. As the denominators used in calculations for the core subject performance and weighted academic achievement use numbers of students tested, it will be important to ascertain how the participation rate will be accommodated. As stated in numerous NYSED documents the “number of continuously enrolled students who are tested” or “95% of continuously enrolled students with or without test scores” are used in the denominator of the accountability system. How will students ‘who are tested’ or students with test scores be defined in instances when to no fault of the student, the scores cannot be retrieved or accounted for? It is exceedingly important that the final approach not penalize school and district accountability status.
It is our desire to work with the NYSED to seek viable strategies for moving forward. We understand the difficult position in which the Department finds itself and it is our guess that there is no entity more displeased to be in that position than NYSED. That being said, we also want to be a strong advocate for administrators who were also placed in very difficult positions. We would suggest that the Department meet with groups of stakeholders to discuss regional approaches that will improve future CBT testing, as well as what new strategies are needed to regain the public trust.