Two-day tests still too stressful: shorter state ELA exams prove difficult for Rockville Centre students


Rockville Centre students in grades three through eight endured one fewer day of testing on April 11 and 12 during the state English Language Arts exam, but school officials said the reduction did not ease children’s stress as they had hoped.

Last year, state officials approved a measure to shorten sessions for the ELA and mathematics assessments from three days to two after Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Common Core Task Force recommended the change.

“Three days down to two, I was hopeful,” Dr. Chris Pellettieri, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, said at a Board of Education meeting on April 17. “But Dr. [Johnson] warned me about that, and [he was] right once again.”

At the time, the shift to two-day tests was viewed as a win for students, parents and teachers, as criticism of the state tests has risen in recent years, moving parents to opt their children out. This year, Superintendent Dr. William Johnson reported that 59.3 percent of students in the district did not sit for the exam, a participation rate 3 percentage points lower than last year.

“It was like three days of questions put into two days,” said Johnson, who has been critical of the Common Core State Standards, which were phased out last year as the Board of Regents approved the State Education Department’s Next Generation Learning Standards. “I know that isn’t true, but that was the feeling.”

The tests were not timed, and Johnson pointed out that teachers and principals watched their students try to jam the third day’s effort into the second day. He added that there were no major complaints about the content, just the quantity — despite the fact that there were fewer questions to answer, students were seen reading the assigned passages over and over again.

While the first day — the multiple-choice portion — went smoothly, the second day, which included both short and long responses, was problematic, school officials said. The children had to read three passages and answer two short responses about each, and then write an essay comparing two of the three.

What was expected to take 80 to 90 minutes turned into three to four hours for many students, according to Pellettieri. “Being untimed took a lot out of our kids,” he said, adding that other districts experienced similar results. “This is not an isolated incident.”

Darren Raymar, principal of William S. Covert Elementary School, said that although he thought more students took the exams this year compared with last year because two days of testing seemed more palatable than three, the reduction did not improve exam results. He added that the third-grade test was especially difficult, and that he believed there would be more opt-outs in the future if current testing remains unchanged. “It’s become such a circus with the state,” Raymar said, noting how drastic the changes have been over the years.

On the second day, students had a break for lunch, and then came back to finish, according to Susan DeRosa, a fourth-grade teacher at Covert. A teacher for 22 years, she said this has never happened before, noting how “rigorous” the exam was.

“The reality is these students at this age truly do not have the reading and writing stamina to get through what the state asked them to do on the second day,” DeRosa said, noting that only about half of her 24 students took the test.

She added that although the questions were fair — commenting that the “readability” of the fourth-grade exam was appropriate — there was just too much to do on Day Two, which made it feel “overwhelming.” DeRosa said that by the time the children reached the final essay, “They were done. They were too tired.”

But Faith Varley, the mother of two children at Francis F. Wilson Elementary School and one at South Side Middle School, heard no complaints from her kids. Varley, a former Parent Teacher Association president at Wilson, said her children did not feel overwhelmed during the testing or tired afterward.

The state mathematics exams for students in grades three through eight will be given on May 1 and 2. “We hold our breath and hope they are better, shorter exams,” Pellettieri said.