Testing tweaks pondered

Published 9:58 pm Friday, November 14, 2014

Suffolk school administrators are considering how they can address testing concerns raised by teachers last month, the School Board learned Thursday.

Superintendent Deran Whitney said he and his staff have met with several groups of teachers to discuss the concerns raised by four Creekside Elementary third-grade teachers during the October meeting of the School Board.

Quality local tests to prepare students for end-of-year state assessments need to continue, he said, but he suggested revising their length.

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For instance, Whitney said, instead of administering 40-question tests at the start of the year, tests could start with 15 questions and build up to 40.

“I think one thing we all agree with is our students are being tested too often,” he said, echoing the primary concerns raised by the teachers. “But it’s a matter of maintaining that balance and making sure they are prepared for that (state) assessment.”

District officials need to improve communication with teachers, Whitney said. “What we are missing sometimes is the ‘Why?’” he said. “We need to continue to take advantage of teacher input.”

The four Creekside teachers last month raised a range of concerns regarding what are also known as benchmark assessments, midpoints and nine-week tests.

They said the tests are not meeting the needs of students, while the frequency doesn’t allow enough time for adequate instruction and remediation where necessary.

The rigor required is wearing students down, they said.

During Thursday’s meeting, several officials and educators presented an overview of state and local assessments, reporting sizeable reductions in the total number administered in all grade levels — down to 299 this instructional year from 499 in 2013-2014 and 573 in 2012-2013.

Tiffany Truitt, a John F. Kennedy Middle School teacher who helps write state assessments, defended the district’s approach to local tests.

“Suffolk Public Schools allows teachers to be involved in every aspect of test writing and curriculum development,” she said. “I agree we need to cut back on assessments and make the ones we have valuable and meaningful.”

Truitt said the state tests she helps write would be “very, very hard.”

“We can’t keep saying the nine-week test is too hard,” she said. “That’s how hard the state test is going to be.”

Letting some assessments serve as “diagnostic tools” to guide instruction instead of grading them has also been discussed, Whitney said.

Deborah Perry — one of the four teachers who spoke last month — told Thursday’s meeting a small group of teachers were able to meet with Whitney and Deputy Superintendent Jacqueline Chavis.

“It was a very positive experience and opened a line of communication we are very excited about,” Perry said.

“We were able to express thoughts we otherwise would not have been able to,” while insights were provided into administrative decisions.

But since the focus was on “a selected few of our concerns,” Perry added, “we are looking forward to more conversation.”

The district is in the midst of addressing the full range of concerns and still meeting with teacher groups, Whitney said.

Responses will be provided though the teacher advisory council, he said, “Then it will go back to each teacher.”