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Potsdam officials unhappy with recent round of state testing

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POTSDAM - Middle School Principal Jamie Cruikshank and Superintendent Patrick H. Brady tolfd Potsdam Central School Board of Education members Tueswday night they weren’t giving high grades to the recent round of state testing.

The grades three through eight math and ELA (English Language Arts) examinations were given to students recently over a three-day period, with students required to stay in the testing rooms for 90 minutes per test, each day, regardless of whether they were finished with the exam.

“The state said they were designed to give students a break,” Mr. Cruikshank said. “Imagine giving 400 students a break when they’re not allowed to talk. It’s a logistical nightmare.”

The testing sessions for special needs students, many of whom are given additional time to complete the exams, was even worse with those student being given the test in three 180-minute blocks, they said.

The three testing sessions were made even more taxing by errors in the exams questions.

Mr. Brady explained there was one question on the fifth-grade math test that required knowlege of the Pythagorean theorem to get the correct answer. Other questions did not include commas, and some questions contained multiple right answers or no correct answers.

“There were a lot of mistakes,” Mr. Brady said, noting Pearson Education Inc. just signed a five-year, $32 million contract with the state.

The tests also contained “embedded field questions,” experimental questions that covered material not included in the material taught to students taking the exams.

“The concern was students would get to one of those questions and would get concerned and agitated, possibly being bothered for the rest of the test,” Mr. Brady said.

And those were concerns that Mr. Cruikshank said he knew to be true.

“One principal said he walked into a testing room and half the kids were in tears,” he said. “I had students who as soon as they got to one of those questions knew they couldn’t do it, closed their book and put their head down.”

On the ELA exam, Mr. Cruikshank said the test contained several questions with answers that weren’t even factual.

“Four of the questions thrown out were opinion questions,” he said. “However, there was only one correct answer according to Pearson.”

Several of those questions were connected to a reading passage about a talking pineapple, the only questions administrators felt safe discussing in public as it hascome under fire in state and national media.

Mr. Brady and Mr. Cruikshank said state education law tprohibits them from discussing specific questions before, during or even after an exam.

“What would happen if you talked about questions? Would the test police come and get you?” school board President James A. Bunstone asked.

While Mr. Cruikshank said there is no such thing as test police, he said the state has instilled a certain degree of fear among its teachers and administrators.

“Last year a former state employee said if there were any testing improprieties examples would be made,” Mr. Cruikshank said. “They’re (the state) asking for accountability for teachers ,and I’m all for that. They’re asking for accountability from students, but the train doesn’t go seem to be going both ways,” he said.

Board member Christopher C. Cowen asked if there was anything the board could do.

Mr. Brady said he would prepare a letter to be sent to the state expressing their displeasure with the exams.

“All of this brings up the issue these tests are high stakes. They’re not only grading the students, but they’re grading the teachers.”

Mr. Cruikshank agreed.

“Doing this was not easy or fun and it purposely put students in tears,” he said. “When the Bar Exam is shorter than this test for 10-year-olds, that is a problem.”

Mr. Cowen asked if there were going to be revisions made to this year’s test scores.

“Right now nothing would surprise me,” Mr. Cruikshank replied.

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