State to shorten math, English exams

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Testing. (via flickr)
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ALBANY—The state Board of Regents fleshed out proposals to reduce and reform testing in New York schools at their regular meetings Monday and Tuesday, including a plan to shorten math and English exams.

The state plans to cut down the amount of time students spend taking math exams by 20 minutes in all grades and will also cut the number of questions to relieve concerns about students not being able to finish.

In grades five through eight, the state will reduce questions on English exams, but maintain the maximum testing time, giving students more time for each question.

The state is moving forward seeking a federal waiver to relieve eighth graders in advanced Algebra from taking both the eighth-grade and the high school-level assessments. While about 57,000 students would be affected by that change, the state is expanding the waiver request to include another 2,000 students, including seventh graders who are also taking the algebra course as well as eighth graders who are taking high-school geometry.

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Further, the state hopes to obtain a waiver that allows students with disabilities who are not already excused from assessments to be tested based on instructional level rather than chronological age.

Additionally, the education department is seeking funding from the state Legislature to create exams for English-language learners in their native languages. For example, Spanish-speaking students who have lived in the United States for less than three consecutive years would be able to take an exam in Spanish rather than English.

Education Commissioner John King said the changes grew out of teacher and parent complaints at a series of community forums the department has held around the state.

“I see these forums as an opportunity for us to hear out concerns and also identify opportunities for thoughtful adjustments, some we have already acted upon,” King said during a Regents meeting Tuesday.

Richard Iannuzzi, president of New York State United Teachers, argued in a statement Tuesday that the Board of Regents' and King's proposed changes only "superficially acknowledge" teachers' and parents' "mounting anger" over the Common Core and testing.

"While we support the recommended changes, there is a tremendous disconnect between the minor adjustments ... and the clamor by students, parents and educators for meaningful and major course corrections," Iannuzzi said.

The union is continuing to lobby for a three-year moratorium on using Common Core-aligned exam results for "high-stakes," including teacher evaluations—a push that King has called a "distraction."

"The growing calls for a moratorium while significant changes in implementation and assessment are undertaken must be heeded or the very standards the commissioner so vehemently supports will be lost," Iannuzzi said, referring to the Common Core.