testing test drive

State looks to create its own computer-based tests as officials put off switch to PARCC

PHOTO: Creative Commons/timlewisnm

New York students could take their annual state tests on computers in 2017, according to a state document seeking bids for a contract to create new electronic English and math exams.

The five-year contract would begin in July, months before the state’s current $32 million contract with the testmaker Pearson expires in December. While the winning bidder would be required to create computer-based exams by spring 2017, schools will have the option to stick with the pencil-and-paper exams that students currently take in grades three through eight, the document adds.

That move further delays New York’s shift from print to computer-based tests, suggesting that many schools are not ready for the change.

State officials had previously planned to roll out computer-based tests this year, when a group of states will begin giving online exams tied to the Common Core standards. Officials later decided to hold off switching to the exams created by that group, called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC.

The state’s latest decision to develop its own computer-based tests indicates that officials have no immediate plans to adopt the PARCC exams, even as other states make the switch. Instead, schools will have several more years to prepare for New York’s own digital tests.

“It will be at the discretion of each school and revisable annually, as to whether they will administer by paper or computer or both,” according to the request for proposals posted by the state education department last week, which calls this a “voluntary shift.” It adds that the state does not know how many schools will initially switch to computer-based tests, but expects the number “will increase each school year of this contract,” which would extend to 2020.

New York has been planning to convert to computer-based tests since at least 2010, when it adopted the Common Core standards and joined PARCC. In 2012, State Education Commissioner John King told districts to prepare to give computer-based tests by 2015, when the consortium’s tests were to be ready. (PARCC received a $186 million federal grant to build the “next-generation” assessments, which the group hired Pearson to help develop.)

But the next year New York decided not to immediately switch to the PARCC tests, which will be available at first in both paper and online forms. The decision was partly because not all schools had the necessary technology or Internet bandwidth to give the online exams. But it was also because officials had paid Pearson to create a pencil-and-paper Common Core test just for New York, which students first took in 2013.

Now, as other states in the consortium take the online PARCC tests this year, New York students will continue taking the state’s printed Common Core test. State officials have not said if or when New York will adopt the PARCC tests, though one top official recently said the state has “no current plans” to use them. The state education department did not immediately respond to questions Wednesday.

New York City officials have expressed interest in converting to online exams ahead of the rest of the state. Last year, 95 city schools took trial versions of the PARCC tests.

Still, many schools do not have the necessary technology. Only a quarter of city schools currently have enough devices to administer the online test, officials said last April, and many of the devices schools do have are outdated. A city education department spokesman said Wednesday that a switch either to PARCC or the state’s own computer-based tests “will require a transition period of several years.”

Even as the state prepares to build its own new tests, it is still possible it could switch to PARCC eventually, said Jack Bierwirth, the superintendent of the Herricks school district on Long Island and co-chair of the Council of School Superintendents’ assessment subcommittee.

The state could relatively cheaply convert its current paper exams into computer-based versions that it could use temporarily, he said. That would give the state time to find a new education commissioner, wait to see if federal testing laws change, and then decide whether to adopt the PARCC tests, Bierwirth said.

“To me,” he said, “this all ends up being essentially a few years of an interim assessment while the dust settles.”

Geoff Decker contributed reporting.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”