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Editorial: Let state exams in Schalmont stand

Saturday, May 31, 2014
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Watch out for the baby.

It just got thrown out with the bath water.

In what seems like an overreaction to an honest and harmless mistake, the state Education Department has invalidated the results of the state math and English exams taken by nearly 300 Schalmont students because some of the questions on the current-year exams had appeared on the previous year's tests.

Inulling the exam results could affect state funding for the district in future years, depending on how well the next crop of students do on their tests.

For such a drastic action to be taken, the violation should have a measurable element of harm. We ask, what was the harm?

So students had seen some of the previous year's questions. Do you think in their blearly-eyed fog, they remembered several questions from one year to the next? Since the exams are given to different grades, fourth-graders wouldn't be taking the same tests they took in third grade. So how much overlap could there be?

The scores have no bearing on students' grades or whether they go on to the next grade, but mostly serve to give teachers some guidance into whether a student needs extra help in the subject. Heck, students aren't even required to take the exams; they can opt out of them.

Did students having knowledge of a previous year's questions drastically alter the test scores so as to give the district an unfair advantage in achieving adequate yearly progress? A few repeated questions aren't going to skew the results significantly. And since teachers are only looking for progress and trends, the answers aren't going to change the assessment one way or the other.

How different can questions be from year to year and exam to exam, anyway? There are only so many ways you can ask a third-grader what elephants and parrots have in common, and only so many ways you can ask a fifth-grader how many small boxes Mr. Smith can fit into one larger box.

Many of us are old enough to remember studying for our New York State Regents exams in booklets comprised entirely of old Regents exams. If the questions weren't at least similar from year to year, there would have been no point in studying the old exams. Do you think some questions weren't repeated or only slightly modified?

We certainly don't advocate giving students or schools an unfair advantage by allowing them to prepare for the exams unfairly.

But we're not talking about exams that can determine students' class grades and contribute to whether they graduate from high school. If the tests carried more weight, we might be inclined to agree with the state on this one. But the tests are a tool, not a final arbiter.

It would have sufficed for the district to accept the results of the exam and take steps to ensure that such a slip-up didn't occur again.

Instead, all the students' hard work, and the hard work of their teachers to prepare them, is now out the window.

 
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