Local districts prepare for tests

B y Jaime Thomas

There are few aspects to education that students look less forward to than long, standardized tests.

Imagine then the horror of high-schoolers finding out all the hard effort was for naught, and they had to do it all over again.

If they forget to leave their cellphone at the front of the classroom, that nightmare will become a reality.

“The biggest thing the school has to be aware of is the electronic devices,” said Hartford Superintendent Andrew Cook. “If we find out they had one on them, the test becomes invalid, so it’s really important.”

In the past, he said students were allowed to have a phone tucked away and turned off in a purse or back pocket, but new standards have made the matter much more serious.

“Even if it was turned off and the battery wasn’t in it, the test would be invalid,” he said, and the student would have to wait a year to retest. The issue could even jeopardize graduation for a senior taking a Regent’s exam.

Cook said the district plans to collect phones before the tests and stress to students how important it is they not have them on their person.

In Granville, Principal Camille Harrelson said the district already sent out a letter about the new policy and will have people gathering cellphones before the tests.

With the implementation of new Common Core standards, however, he said preparation for the standardized tests is much as it has been. Locally, districts are taking changing standards and curriculums in stride as best they can.

“In terms of test administration, nothing has changed,” he said.

No chance for post-test review

What has changed is that teachers can no longer see sample questions or even previous years’ test to know how to guide their students.

“If a student gets a question wrong, we can’t even see which one it was to work on that,” Cook said. “In the past, once the test had been administered we could see it and use the questions.”

So changing expectations, methods and state standards continue to remain behind a sort of shroud. And the issue of viewing tests is a matter of money.

“They can’t release the questions because they’re going to recycle them in a few years. The state would have to pay the company coming up with the questions more for more questions,” Cook said. “So we can’t say, ‘How can we fix this in the future?’ We can’t know what areas to work on.”

“The security of these tests has really changed,” Harrelson said, adding that though this policy is not brand new, it is frustrating. She said previously teachers were able to do an item analysis but are now at a disadvantage to remediate problem areas.

He reiterated a criticism that many area administrators have expressed with the implementation of the Common Core—that is, all at once throughout different grade levels. And though expectations have immediately gone up, the means to teach have come in bit by bit.

“The new Common Core is coming to the district piecemeal; it might be like that for a few years. The other thing that’s very difficult is it was all rolled out at the same time,” Cook said, explaining that students are being tested on material they should have been taught, but may not yet have reached.

He said he is hopeful the results will be more positive for students in grades three through eight, because they had the Common Core test once before. Additionally, he commended everyone in the district for their efforts.

“Our students have been working hard and our faculty and staff have been working hard too, and I’m very proud of them,” he said.

Harrelson agreed.

“They’re working hard to prepare the kids and get them ready,” she said.

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