School district joins study to improve state tests

Administrators seek to replace Common Core exams with new assessment


The Rockville Centre School District will participate in a study in January aimed at exploring an alternative to the Common Core state standardized test system, Superintendent Dr. William Johnson announced at a school board meeting on Nov. 15.

The district has been using tests designed by the Northwest Evaluation Association, or NWEA, to supplement data they get from state tests. NWEA tests are shorter, and, according to Johnson, less stressful for students. The results are returned to educators almost immediately because the tests are taken on computers — giving them more insight into how to conduct their classes — while the state test scores take months to be returned.

The association’s MAP Growth test, which is currently given to students in kindergarten through eighth grade, is adaptive, meaning that it automatically adjusts its questions based on a student’s performance in real time.

“There’s no ceiling, and there’s no floor,” explained Chris Pellettieri, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. “It challenges kids at their own level. It finds their happy medium,” which he added reduces their stress and provides more valuable insight to educators.

But federal and state requirements mandate that statewide tests measure students’ performance against the Common Core standards, and that it’s not enough to measure a child’s skills by grade level.

Common Core standards have been heavily criticized by parents and teachers in recent years, and students are opting out of the existing state tests at rates that frequently exceed 50 percent, which severely impacts the quality of the data they generate, Pellettieri said at a school board meeting in October.

“There’s language in [the federal law] that allows states to pursue alternative assessments,” according to Pellettieri. “New York state said, ‘we’ll try it,’ but it hasn’t moved in that direction.”

Johnson said that he has asked state education officials to allow the district to use the NWEA’s test as its main assessment. “They wouldn’t even consider an adaptive test,” he said, adding that they didn’t explain why.

So, Johnson, along with about a dozen other superintendents in the state, asked the NWEA to try to create a test that would meet the state’s requirements.

According to NWEA spokeswoman Jessica Hahn, “The superintendents asked, basically, ‘Can you do something here so that we can have assessment features we love, but that also addresses proficiency?’”

Pellettieri said that by asking for the NWEA study, “Dr. Johnson tried to light a fire under the state in that regard.”

One of the key changes that the study would make to the existing NWEA test is that there will be a “ceiling” and a “floor.” Although Johnson said that it should remain adaptive to some degree, students will only be shown questions one grade above, and one below, their actual grade level.

Another difference, he added, is that it would take a bit longer, a few weeks to a month, for the results to come back.

Hahn cautioned against reading too much into the study. “It’s really early,” she said. “This is just a way to gather evidence, like a mini science project.”

When he made the announcement earlier this month, Johnson called the study a pilot program, a phrase that made Hahn uncomfortable. “A pilot would have an actual product or service that you would be trying out, to see how it works, or where the kinks are,” she said, adding, “This is basically a proof of concept.”

Johnson said that there is no long-term timeline to replace the current state tests, and that the district would wait to see the results of the study before deciding on next steps.