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Regents exams may go digital

State considering paperless partnership

Friday, July 26, 2013
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— Stop, put your pencils down and close your test booklet.

No, the exam isn’t over. But the tools students use across the state to take standardized Regents exams could dramatically change within three years if state officials adopt a new national test model.

Exams developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers — a federally funded consortium of 19 states and the District of Columbia that have adopted the Common Core State Standards of what students should know before high school graduation — would phase out paper-based tests in favor of ones taken on computers. Now the state Board of Education and Board of Regents are weighing whether New York school districts are prepared to make the jump from traditional test-taking models to one that would move exams onto a digital screen.

Already, districts are moving ahead with new high school assessments based on the common core. But the question now is whether the state should mold its existing Regents exams to the new standard or adopt the model being developed bythe partnership, which would cause radical changes to how standardized tests are taken throughout the state.

“The regents are holding off until they see the assessments before they make a commitment one way or another,” said Tom Dunn, a spokesman for the state Education Department.

Dunn said a decision on which direction to take will likely come sometime this fall, after the first class of students that will face Regents exams based on the Common Core enter high school. As of now, both the partnership and the Board of Regents are simultaneously developing examinations this class will take in two years.

Choosing the partnership to produce New York’s standardized tests would give the state two years to prepare for the exam and another in which a paper test would be provided to any district not ready to use the computerized format. Consortium spokesman Chad Colby said the three-year buffer should give districts enough time to make the switch.

“There are probably some districts that could do this tomorrow, and there are some that probably need these next two years plus the pencil and paper year, too,” he said.

Colby said classroom instruction is already largely computer-based. He said the consortium’s exam could ultimately help modernize those school districts that are lagging behind in thier approach to education.

“It could be a catalyst,” he said.

There’s also cost to consider. Partnership exams will run $29.50 per student — a cost that covers both math and English exams.

State officials couldn’t say how much the Regents exams cost. Dunn said a five-year contract to produce math and English exams cost about $32 million.

Potentially abandoning Regents exams prepared in state for one developed outside is causing concern among some administrators, said Bob Lowry, associate director of the state Council of School Superintendents. He said some worry drastic changes to the system could leave some districts behind.

“These would be big steps forward,” he said. “The concern is, how do we get to there from where we are now.”

Lowry also believes it’s important for the state to make a decision in a manner that allays these concerns. Regardless of the choice, he said state officials need to be ready to answer any questions from teachers and administrators.

“They need to go about this in a away that builds confidence, that it’s the right decision, given the concerns that are already out there,” he said.

And confidence is what Schoharie Central School District Superintendent Brian Sherman would like to have before making such a radical change. He said the small rural district of less than 1,000 students purposely planned $1.4 million in infrastructure upgrades to brace for computer-based exams, but he is still leery of such a drastic change without more details.

For instance, he questions whether the computer-based exams would lock districts into making costly upgrades almost on an annual basis. He said Schoharie has enough computers, but they’ll be more than three years old by the time the new test comes online.

“That’s the dilemma,” he said. “How do you keep up with technology that changes every eight months?”

Meanwhile, Sherman said students are being hammered by additional questions and standardized tests as the state works toward developing curriculum based on the Common Core. He said many educators and parents are being angered by the amount of testing being conducted in connection with the partnership’s field testing and the evolving Regents.

“You have this testing and testing and testing going on, and that’s what the teachers and parents are getting upset about,” he said.

 
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