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State official ‘surprised’ by claims that testing standards are too high for fourth-graders

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MADRID – A New York state Education Department official said he is “surprised” to hear of objections from Madrid-Waddington Central School officials about the new state assessments and curriculum changes.

Madrid-Waddington Central School’s Board of Education announced last week it was compiling a list of concerns over new state standardized tests to be given to fourth graders. One district educator has said the standards fourth graders are expected to meet on tests in April are unrealistic.

Deputy Commissioner of P-12 Education Ken Slentz, who has worked closely with the state’s common core implementation plan, said he has not heard from any other teachers about the changes. Mr. Slentz said implementation guidelines for the new state assessments are available on a special website: www.engageny.org.

“These changes are over two years in the making,” he said. “We believe these changes are necessary and in line with the country’s Race to the Top initiative.”

Since he began his career with the Education Department in 1996, he said, education and support to teachers and administration has improved dramatically. Mr. Slentz said he personally facilitated seminars prepping administrators across the state, instructing administrators on the new standards.

“We’ve provided an unprecedented amount of support,” he said. “Ask any other states. They all say the same thing: no other state is more progressive than New York.”

By law, the state cannot impose a curriculum, state education spokesman Dennis Tompkins said.

“But BOCES staff act based on the curriculum that is available on the state’s website, and let individual districts know what is available,” Mr. Tompkins said.

Mr. Slentz said the state standards fully “align with the curriculum.”

But Madrid-Waddington fourth-grade teacher William D. Gotsch, who first brought to his school board concerns about the tests being too difficult, said that educators are not being made aware of curriculum changes and test samples in time to prepare for the tests in April.

“They have been publishing as they have been going along,” he said. “Changes are still being made after the school year has already begun.”

The online sample tests also feature questions with complex algebraic equations, which “according to the state website may or may not appear on the test,” Mr. Gotsch said.

“Only a couple of samples from the math tests are available online,” Mr. Gotsch said. “I would like to see a couple of questions from each section of the standards. I don’t want to see exact questions that are on the test, but I want to see questions similar to those that will be on the test. It’s stated on the website that an actual sample test would be out before the end of the summer. They have not sent us any, and it’s almost December.”

The board will present the list of concerns to Regent James C. Dawson when he visits the school Tuesday for a meeting with district administrators.

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