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WPCNR SCHOOL DAYS. John Bailey Interviews Jessica O’Donovan, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction. (PART 1) November 27, 2014:

In response to statewide furor over the state Common Core Assessment tests for the second straight year, half of the questions with answers that appeared on the English Language Arts and Math Assessments were furnished on the State Education Department website for use by school districts and teachers in August. Students’ individual answers to each question were not furnished.


JESSICA O’DONOVAN, with Jim Benerofe in October 2013

WPCNR interviewed Jessica O’Donovan,  White Plains Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, by telephone Wednesday afternoon  on her reactions and how the district is moving ahead with preparing  for the 2015 State Common Core Assessments. Here is how it went:

WPCNR: Have you made an analysis of why this test (the ELA tests and the Math), is so difficult?

O’DONOVAN:  I think we already knew the answer. Some of the question texts are incredibly hard. Well above grade level, and some of the questions are absolutely confusing, not well constructed. It’s really hard. I don’t think there are any surprises. Being able to Look at the test questions again (released on the State Education Department website) just confirmed what we already believed. The (assessment test(s) still has a long way to go before educators believe it’s a high quality, fair, accurate measure of truly what the students know.

That doesn’t mean we won’t continue to refine our practice, not just against the test, but against the (Common Core) standards. We certainly are going to look to the test to think about what we feel  is missing in our own curriculum. There’s a really heavy emphasis (in the tests) on content area reading, so there are several passages in all the grades tests that really focus on science and social studies texts, so we know we need to continue to focus on our goal of literacy across the entire curriculum, but those are things we already knew.”

WPCNR: Do you know what each individual student scored on the test questions?  Do you have individual students’ answers they chose on the assessments?

O’DONOVAN: “We can’t go back and say question 12 what did they get wrong, if that is not one of the released items. But we know their scale score.”

WPCNR: That’s what I meant, you can’t figure out what questions an individual got right and what questions they missed though they did miss a lot?”

O’DONOVAN:  We cannot go back and identify…we don’t have the (complete) test in hand. We only have certain items in hand. But according to the state, you’re not supposed to be trying to quote prepare students for the test’ you’re not supposed to be able to ‘test prep’ so they (the state) do not feel that is a flaw.  But if you look at any best practice, you’re always supposed to have the test in mind keep the final result of the test in mind and work backwards from there. That’s what caused backward design planning which has been considered best practice for decades in education.

So this (Common Core Assessment policy) kind of flips that on its head: Here are the standards, teach to the standards, teach to the standards, but everyone also knows you define the rigor of the standards in the way you assess (test) them.

So, honestly at this point our district feels we are doing a lot of great things. We do not feel the assessment tests are an accurate measure of what our students know and can do, like so many other districts. We will continue to be extremely focused at developing students’ literacy at all levels, but if we like so many other districts allow the ill-preparedness of the state the way they rolled out this entire initiative to dictate the climate of our school buildings we would be in utter chaos, and we’re not going to do that.

We know what needs to be done, we know what best practice looks like we know we need to continue moving students forward in their literacy development and that’s what we’re going to continue to do…with the tests in mind. We’re not going to ignore them. We’re just not going to allow the tests to dictate our daily moves.”

WPCNR published an in-depth analysis  in August of White Plains 3rd to 8th Grade 2014 Assessment results, which may be viewed here:


    This in-depth interview will be continued

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