Over the course of this week, New York State will administer The English Language Arts standardized exams for grades 3-8.
Between Tuesday, March 28 and Wednesday, April 5, students taking these timed exams must answer multiple choice questions based on short passages and write responses to open-ended questions based on articles, stories or poems they listen to or read.
According to the Department of Education, these exams help educators “assign students to appropriate classes and identify areas where the student needs extra help or more challenging material. Educators also examine school-wide results to identify broad instructional areas that require improvement.”
The system of administering the same exam to every student across the state to create a set of standards for students across the country started in 2002. The year after, President George W. Bush passed the No Child Left Behind Act. Various states, however, were rushed to implement these tests and later on, the Common Core Learning Standards (CCLS), prevented teachers from having sufficient time to learn and comprehend the exams in order to help students prepare. Students now take these tests, prepared or unprepared, and see them as a measurement of their intelligence.
The Common Core has stated that “[these standards] are a clear set of shared goals and expectations for the knowledge and skills students need in English language arts and mathematics at each grade level so they can be prepared to succeed in college, career and life.”
The ongoing debate regarding the efficiency of standardized testing across the country has some arguing that it may hinder student growth. Advocates note that since one test is given to all students, some parents cannot afford test prep. Additionally some schools are not properly funded, meaning less resources available for students.
Furthermore, there are students whose first language was not English and students with learning disabilities. Unfortunately all of these students are expected to achieve a certain score, or else they are deemed as not “ready” or “smart enough” for college or school in general.
Chris Whitaker, an advisor for the School of Education at SUNY New Paltz, explained that the problem with standardized testing is that “the policy makers, which is the Board of Regents (in NYS) and NYSED decide what’s important and later make teachers evaluate students based on this knowledge rather than (the students’) abilities.”
Math and English have been the focus of these exams, which is also tested in the SAT, a test required for most students in order to apply for college. Because of the immense emphasis placed on these tests, teachers find themselves solely focused on them in the classroom, with little room for their own lesson plans.
Throughout his campaign, President Donald Trump has constantly denounced the Common Core, saying “Common Core is a total disaster. We can’t let it continue.”
Although education standards are up to the states themselves, the future remains uncertain.
Fourth-year education major Stephanie De Molfetto believes that teachers now have to walk a fine line between preparing students for these tests and teaching them valuable literacy skills.
“Some children are just not good test takers,” De Molfetto said. “People need to understand that.”
She later explained that it would be best to see if the students can effectively talk about the subject in their own words, and if they show up to class and are engaged in the material in class.
“There are also so many external factors that can affect their scores,” De Molfetto said. “Family life, money and the school itself can affect the student’s grade.”
Multiple statistics and articles have reported that failure rates on the Common Core were highest among economically disadvantaged students, supporting De Molfetto’s claim. Tutoring services charge hundreds of dollars, profiting off students each year. Because students from low income families cannot afford these services, these tests are often not an indicator of intelligence, but of family income instead.