What Now With Computer Testing?

Computer Based Testing, or CBT, was again utilized for New York state assessments in grades 3-8 across the state and again there were hiccups.

The state and its contractor Questar Assessment committed to school districts it would address the persisting glitches with a “non-testing” day in the opening week of assessments. During this time an exchange of memos between agencies that raised a decade-old conflict of promoting the non-mandatory assessment while not forcing students to participate if they chose not to opt out was discussed.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia and Board of Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa released a memo on April 4 addressing the technological glitches. However, it also reminded school administrators of the student’s right to opt out of the state assessments.

“We would like to remind school leaders of the importance of honoring requests received by parents to opt their children out of the exams,” the memo read. “While federal law does require all states to administer state assessments in English language arts and mathematics, parents have a right to opt their children out of these exams.”

The joint statement did indicate that in most cases New York state students utilizing their right to opt out were not denied by school districts.

It was reported by Syracuse.com that parents of a Liverpool elementary school student claimed employees “intimidated” the student after opting out of the 3-8 ELA assessments. The school district admitted the student was unfairly sent to the office.

In response to the joint memo from Elia and Rosa, the New York State Council of School Superintendents released its own statement. Charles Dedrick, executive director of the council, wrote “on behalf of school district leaders across our state to express their consternation over (Elia and Rosa’s) statement.”

“As school district leaders, we respect the right of parents to have their children not participate in the state assessments,” Dedrick’s statement read. “With (the joint) statement, however, you have cast aspersions on all superintendents and school administrators. We would have expected the Department to contact districts directly where problems have arisen. We would have assisted those efforts. We are lost as to why a statement insinuating broader failures was deemed necessary.”

Later, Dedrick called attention to the support school leaders have given the state Education Department regarding “high stakes testing.” Also, Dedrick pointed to the contradiction of being instructed to reduce opt-outs while also respecting “the needs and the desires of the communities they serve.”

Dedrick described the the state’s memo as a “blanket statement” and indicated many superintendents have begun questioning their support of the statewide assessment roll out, “even when they disagreed with it.”

In Chautauqua County, Erie-2 BOCES Superintendent David O’Rourke said he received no reports any student being treated similarly to the instance in Liverpool.

“In this region, I’m confident parent requests have been appropriately handled by our school leaders,

O’Rourke told The Post-Journal. “School leaders have also appropriately informed parents about the purpose of assessments.”

O’Rourke also indicated that overall opt-outs in the region reduced during the 2018-19 school year

“As schools are held accountable for their percentage of students taking assessments under ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act), the federal school accountability law, this data seems encouraging,” O’Rourke continued.

While O’Rourke attested to the region’s school leaders “appropriately” handling opt out requests, the county did experience various glitches when testing resumed on April 2.

Michael Mansfield, Bemus Point Central School District superintendent, surmised the error was occurring when an “overload” of schools began to sign into the online system. The glitches included inability to log in and delays submitted tests. Similar issues were seen in the Southwestern, Falconer and Frewsburg school districts.

Shelly O’Boyle, Frewsburg superintendent, said at the April 11 board of education meeting, that “when it worked, it worked” praising the effectiveness of Questar’s system when operational.

Despite the glitches, Frewsburg will proceed with the upcoming CBT version of the 3-8 ELA Math assessments.

One district that experienced 0 glitches was the Jamestown Public Schools District, as it elected not to participate in the recent CBT assessments.

Jessie Joy, JPS chief information officer, said while the district does participate in the CBT field tests each year, the Jamestown district will wait until it is technologically ready as well as the state.

Additionally, Joy said the district is “waiting for (its) students to be ready.”