Is state Education Department up to the task of fixing tests?

The union representing New York’s teachers sounded an alarm Monday about the next round of testing for third- through eighth-graders in New York’s schools.

Sure enough, issues with computer-based testing — one of the union’s six concerns outlined Monday — came true this week. The state Education Departmnet was forced to postpone the second day of computerized English assessments after technical issues caused disruptions statewide. The state Education Department says it will work with testing vendor Questar Assessment to fix the problem that affected students taking the annual assessments online Tuesday. About a quarter of New York districts have transitioned to computers for the mandatory two-day tests, with the rest expected to follow. A computer issue interfered with last year’s English assessments as well.

Admittedly, the teachers’ concern about computerized testing is the least important of the six issues they raised. But their complaint was prescient this year and gives validity to the union’s remaining concerns about the tests’ flaws, that invalid scoring benchmarks mislabel children, that the tests are too long, that untimed testing can be cruel and traumatic for children and that the tests are developmentally inappropriate.

The state Education Department went through a rewrite of its education standards over the past couple of years to address, at least partially, some of the teachers’ concerns. It’s hard to give the state Education Department the benefit of the doubt, though, when it couldn’t handle the easiest of those complaints to rectify. After all, the state had an entire year to figure out how to solve the computer problems that plagued the testing in 2018. Here we are, a year later, having the same type of concerns.

If we can’t trust the state Education Department to make sure the computers they expect children to use to take tests work properly, how can we trust them to develop the test and score the tests properly? Isn’t that the hard part?

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