State Lags in Disclosing Details on How 2013 Assessments Were Created, Who Decided they were Appropriate and Who Approved Them. Test Creator Declines Comment.

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WPCNR SCHOOL DAYS. By John F. Bailey. October 24, 2013:

The State Education Department has so far not provided clear details to WPCNR on how the controversial 2013 Common Core Curriculum Assessment tests were created.

Assemblywoman Amy Paulin said in a statement to this reporter, she favored opening a hearing or hearings with the SED and the teachers who worked with Pearson to develop the highly criticized tests is a good idea. George Latimer,State Senator for White Plains, told WPCNR hearings to explore how tests were created, would be a good idea but he wanted to wait until after the first Education Committee meeting in Buffalo coming up.

Meanwhile, who approved the content of the tests and why they were determined appropriate has not been detailed to this reporter after 4 days.

It appears that full-length mock tests were not given  during the development process to actual students to ascertain if the tests as planned could be managed by students in the time provided. No one has confirmed that there were mock tests, just sample questions.

Pearson, the national test creator evaluation firm, when contacted by WPCNR and asked for details on how they prepare such assessments, declined to comment.

Last week, as previously reported by The Journal News Albany Bureau, Westchester Assembly Members  Amy Paulin, Thomas Abinanti and David Buchwald wrote a letter calling for suspension indefinitely of the Common Core Assessments,  saying the assessments (resulting in drops of 30% in the number of students passing the English Language Arts) were “doing more harm than good,” that a new assessment test needed to be prepared “that will improve the quality of teaching and learning” in the schools.

The three signees cited problems the new tests administered for the first time last year, “are not a valid indicator of college and career readiness,” citing as evidence for this judgment that in many districts a majority are accepted in colleges.

The three criticized the tests based on teachers’ reports that “questions were too vague and did not align with the common core curriculum/content.”  Students were frustrated.  The assemblypersons cited the sharp increase and lack of teacher resources and money to address the resulting Academic Intervention Services, the results of the test dictate.

The letter revealed that teachers are not allowed to see completed tests for each student (in order that they may identify the student’s weaknesses and work with the student). They also felt the new tests were an unfair measure of teachers’ effectiveness, due to their unfairness.

The letter cautioned that the costs of administering the tests by the districts is causing budget stress, and the three pointed out that computerized test taking scheduled for 2015 (14 months away) creates another financial stress on the district.

O’Donovan of White Plains on the test problems.

WPCNR first became aware of possible problems in creating the tests when White Plains Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction Jessica O’Donovan told me on the news interview show, People To Be Heard, (availble for viewing on  school districts had never received typical sample tests in their entirety to work with in preparation. Only handfuls of sample questions were received. She pointed out that the tests required too much referencing back to written tracts, extending the time spent for each question.

I contacted Susan Aspey, V.P. of Public Relations with Pearson (Pearson International and Pearson North America, 2nd largest publishing company in the world)  in Washington,D.C., asking how the 2013 assessments were created, and for an interview with a Pearson personality who could explain the test creation,  she gave me this statement, apparently declining an interview:

“Pearson is the vendor to New York State. We do not set states’ policies; our role is to help our state customers implement their policies and programs.  Your questions are best directed to the state Department of Education.”

This information lead WPCNR to ask the State Education Department about how the tests were created.

I asked Dennis Tompkins head of the SED Press Relations, who were the members of the Board of Regents who approved the content of the new Grade 3 to 8 2013 Assessments, to describe the process by which Pearson developed and “vetted” the new tests. I also asked if a sample test in its entirety was ever administered to test grades within New York State.

Tompkins wrote WPCNR:

“I’ll get you answers to your questions asap, but be advised Board of Regents members do not get involved in test development. That’s done by (SED) staff experts in conjunction with teachers across the state.”

(WPCNR has requested an interview with Education Commissioner John King to discuss the assessments on PEOPLE TO BE HEARD. Mr. Tompkins is working on setting that up.)

I asked Assemblywoman Amy Paulin of the 88th A.D. the same questions:

She issued me this statement Wednesday:

“I am not familiar with who or how the tests were designed.

However, after meeting with the superintendents and assistant superintendents for curriculum in the 88th A.D. regarding the shift in the Common Core  Learning Standards (CCLS) assessments.

I am convinced that the newly created tests are not a valid measure of whether students are college or career ready, which is the intended purpose of the assessments. I support the CCLS and believe that we need to pilot an improved assessment program that will be used as a model for many years to come

Holding a hearing an open meeting with those at SED (State Education Department) or with teachers who worked with Pearson is a good idea. Given the importance of these tests, I believe greater transparency is necessary.

When a student’s self-esteem and a teacher’s reputation or career path is at stake, we must make absolutely sure that tests used to measure student achievement and teacher effectiveness are accurately aligned to the curriculum and will produce valid, reliable results. Currently this is not the case.

Ms. Paulin said she did not know what individuals with the  Board of Regents and State Education Department had responsibility for approving the content of the Pearson-created Assessment Tests.

She said she did not know if any mock full-length “prototype assessments” were pretested by Pearson or the State Education Department on groups of students to judge whether the test format and projected content was reasonable on target for skill levels  for the length of time required or to judge if it was too harsh.

She wanted to hear from Pearson and the SED on how the tests were prepared  and why they felt the content of the tests was in line with the curriculum.

She did not know how much preparation of the tests by Pearson cost the state and was unaware of how other states had tested on Common Core aligned assessments.

Assemblyman David Buchwald, through his press spokesperson, Dan Weisfeld, released this statement when asked Mr. Buchwald’s response to the above questions:

“All the information that the Assemblyman (Buchwald) has to convey at this time can be found in the letter (sent Tuesday). If you have additional questions on the subject, I’d suggest you reach out to the Westchester-Putnam School Boards Association (WPSBA) who would be quite helpful on local education issues.”

Pressed on whether Mr. Buchwald thought hearings should be held on how the tests were created and why they were deemed appropriate, (and, of course how any new pilot assessment should be created)  Mr.Weisfeld furnished this statement:

“Assemblyman Buchwald is not a member of the Education  Committee, which would be in the position to make those kinds of decisions. While we appreciate your (WPCNR’s) understandable focus on broader educational issues, the Assemblyman thinks it’s appropriate to wait for a reaction (from the Board of Regents) before commenting on potential other items.”

Thomas Abinanti, the third Assemblyman to sign the letter to Board of Regents Chancellor, Merryl H. Tisch, has not yet responded to WPCNR’s questions. We await his reponse.

WPCNR has also asked Mr. Tompkins, the SED spokesperson for Commissioner of Education John King’s reaction to the Assemblypersons’ letter, whether he will suspend the 2014 tests, for example.

The Commissioner of Education has established the following dates for resumption of his listening tours to hear reaction to the assessments, that he at first cancelled after an unruly first hearing, then was persuaded to reinstate. The dates:

October 24 Capital District
Myers Middle School
4:00-7:00 PM
October 28 Westchester
November 6 Long Island –   Suffolk
November 7 Rochester
November 13 Long Island –   Nassau
November 25 Southern Tier
December 3 Syracuse
December 9 Long Island –   Nassau


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