New ELA and math exams designed to assess critical thinking skills and knowledge
By Pamela Doan
At the Garrison Union Free School Board of Education special meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 2, the focus was on a presentation by Superintendent Gloria Colucci on the New York State Assessment. The hour-long report and discussion covered test results from last spring. In the 2012-2013 school year, the state changed testing on English Language Ability (ELA) and mathematics. The new tests used different methodology and measures to evaluate students’ learning.
Colucci began the presentation by explaining: “The tests were designed to measure Common Core Standards. This created a new baseline and we expected scores to be lower. It doesn’t mean that students are learning less.” Later in the meeting during a comment from a parent about adjusting teaching and lesson plans to meet the test standards, Colucci compared giving the test last spring to “preparing the plane while it’s in the air.”
Regardless, Garrison students measured up well and the district ranked 69 out of more than 700 school districts statewide, putting them in the top 10 percent. Colucci noted that the Garrison students are in the same proficiency levels as districts in Chappaqua and Briar Cliff Manor.
The new ELA and mathematics exams are designed to assess students’ critical thinking skills as well as their knowledge. There are less obvious right and wrong answers and students are expected to choose the best answer when there might be several possible correct answers among multiple choices. Board Member Charlotte Rowe commented, “While these are good things to test, it’s difficult to do it in a standardized way.”
The discussion echoed concerns about standard tests that have been raised probably since testing began including the limitations of standard tests in providing an accurate evaluation of a child’s knowledge, the importance of teaching children how to take tests, and the necessity to analyze the results at a deeper level to gain insight into the school’s success. In spite of these reservations, Board Member Derek Dubois expressed a sentiment that many other board members agreed with: “The tests seem more thoughtful and comprehensive based on the questions we’ve seen.”
Parents should be receiving their children’s test scores in the mail now and school-wide scores will be available on the school website soon. Children are not given their test scores directly. Students that scored at lower proficiency levels may be given extra assistance in the classroom. All students who took Regents Exams in Algebra, Living Environments, and Spanish passed and earned credits to take higher-level classes this fall in their first year of high school.