February 8, 2010
New York State’s standardized tests could see big changes next year if a series of a proposals under consideration are approved by the Board of Regents.
According to the State Education Department’s website, the Board of Regents is considering three changes that would not alter the English and math tests’ content, but could still affect their level of difficulty. The changes under consideration include implementing vertical scaling, adding about 15 multiple choice questions to both exams, and curbing the amount of test information that’s made public.
Vertical scaling means creating a common scale that is used to compare test scores that a student receives in different grades. Currently, it’s difficult for testing analysts to look at a third grader’s math score, compare it to her seventh grade math score, and deduce how much progress she’s made.
By vertically scaling the tests, the state would have a more credible measure of students’ grade-to-grade growth, some argue. It could also feed into the development of a system where teachers and principals are evaluated on measured student progress — a change the Board favors.
SED is also looking to make the tests slightly longer and less predictable by adding questions and publishing fewer test questions.
Every year, New York releases all the questions on the state exams after they’re administered, a practice that some testing experts say winds up making the tests easier. Chair of the state advisory group that monitors testing, Howard Everson, has said that publishing each year’s tests makes it harder for test-makers to gauge how difficult a test is. It can also lead teachers to prepare students for exams by drilling them in multiple choice questions they know were previously on the test and could appear again in a similar format.
The state still wants to release some test questions, which testing experts say has its benefits.
“Whenever you are forced to show what you are giving kids the light of the day, all of the sudden a lot of the obnoxious style questions drop out of the tests,” Paul Kanarek, founder of the Princeton Review of California, told Maura last year. “They’re no longer asking questions that are so class-based, for example.”