testing testing

Under pressure to score tests faster, a proposal to scrap writing

Next year, the state’s English tests could be missing one crucial component: writing.

That’s the conclusion that educators are drawing after the Board of Regents weighed a proposal earlier this month to eliminate the open-ended question section of the state’s standardized tests — the only part of the third through eighth grade testing regime that asks students to write out their answers in sentences.

The proposal is one of several ideas the Board of Regents, the state panel that sets New York’s education policy, is considering in order to speed up the test-grading process, following a new federal regulation ordering states to tell schools sooner whether or not they are meeting states standards. (State test scores play a large part in making that decision.) Changing the way the tests are graded could also cut costs.

The Regents have been studying how to meet the new federal requirement for almost a year. The prospect of scrapping writing first surfaced publicly when the Regents published the findings of a survey the board conducted to study the question. Of 22,000 parents and educators surveyed, 85% said the essay questions should remain.

Two other proposals are also on the table. One would have schools give the tests earlier in the year, a change educators said would give them less time to prepare students and make the tests a poor judge of the teacher’s performance. Another proposal would hire an outside vendor grade the tests, rather than local New York teachers. More than three-quarters of teachers said in the poll that they prefer local or regional scoring to the vendor option. Some teachers said they appreciate grading as a chance to get a better understanding of the test.

But it’s the change to the English test that’s attracted the most disappointment. “It would be a disaster if they took those questions off,” said Deborah Reck, the CEO and co-founder of The Writers’ Express, a Boston-based nonprofit that supports writing instruction, including some classes in the city. Overburdened teachers would spend less time teaching writing if they knew their students wouldn’t be tested on it, she said.

Bronx middle school English teacher Jordan Kutcher is one of those teachers. At a school whose test scores are low, Kutcher spends two months prepping students for the state exam. Knowing what’s on the exam helps her choose what to focus on, she said. “I can see the argument that [changing the test] could lead to less writing instruction, which is a bad thing,” she said.

Lynette Guastaferro, the executive director of Teaching Matters, a non-profit based in the city, said eliminating writing would make the test less rigorous. “I’m not in favor of throwing out the section that I think tests higher-order thinking skills,” she said.

One policy analyst told me it’s possible that the state could find better ways to make scoring more efficient. Bill Tucker, chief operating officer at the D.C. think tank Education Sector and the author of a recent report on the future of testing, said that the state could cut scoring costs substantially by requiring each essay to be read only once — by a human. Then, rather than getting a second pair of eyes to check that score, a computer could do the corroboration.

Only if there is a discrepancy between the two scores would a second human review both grades, Tucker suggested. (This is how the essay section of the GRE, taken by applicants to graduate school, is being graded as of this year.)

The Board of Regents has yet to decide the fate of open-ended state test questions. “There was a discussion,” said State Education Department spokesman Tom Dunn about the Regents’ March 16 meeting. “But no conclusions were made.”

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.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.