2011 NYS Tests Post-Mortem

Wow, another two days of testing behind us, and I still can't believe how mentally exhausting it can be just to walk around and watch my students take the New York State math exam. I proctor the third grade ELL's so that also means I'm watching over some of our grade's most struggling students. This makes the experience of administering the test exceptionally harrowing.

Going into this year's English Language Arts and mathematics exams there was a lot of buzz about the increased rigor. This isn't the first time we've heard this, and in the past it hasn't exactly panned out. So, I was a little skeptical that this year's test would prove any different.

This year's ELA test didn't seem especially difficult compared to past years'. The format was different, extending over three days instead of two, and including more open responses in place of an editing passage. The open responses while simpler, were still a major improvement over the basic editing passage 3rd graders were responsible for in the past. Still, having seen the fourth grade tests, and essentially preparing my kids for something similar, I thought this year's 3rd grade ELA wasn't a huge step up in terms of difficulty.

Observing the math exams this year, I did notice an increase in the number of questions that required more critical thinking and maneuvering through a problem-solving process than in previous exams. There were multiple two-part problems and there were a few questions that tested students understanding of how to use certain math, rather than just rudimentary skills.

I was happy to see this shift, even if it may mean a harder exam, because it lessens the benefit of teaching to the test. In math in general, I feel teaching to the test is less of a problem, but still, the repetitious nature of the exams over the years has lead to score inflation and a dumbing down of mathematical thinking.

By implementing new styles of questions, including several that required students to work through multiple steps, I feel like the state is making it harder to teach through repetition, and requiring more from our students. It's a trend I hope continues, because it means we're moving towards better and more meaningful tests. In doing so, I hope we're also making"test prep" obsolete.


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