Despite glitches, Hudson’s happy with cyber tests

HUDSON–Computer-based testing and the first ever home track meet highlighted the Hudson City School District (HCSD) Board of Education meeting Tuesday, April 17.

Until this year, all HCSD students took the ELA (English Language Arts) and math state assessment tests with paper and pencil. This year, district fifth graders took the ELA test by computer, while other HCSD third-through-eighth graders took it by paper. Coordinator of School Improvement April Prestipino said that, despite start-up glitches, the computer testing went smoothly, although a member of the school board was skeptical.

The fifth grade test took two days. The first day’s test had 35 multiple choice questions; the second day involved six short-answer questions and one longer-answer question. The first day, getting all fifth graders into the system took about an hour and a half, according to Ms. Prestipino. Once in the system, the students took “on the average 90 minutes” to answer all 35 questions. Then, when they logged out, some students’ answers vanished. And the next day, the log in process revealed that the first-day responses by some additional students had also disappeared. In both cases, the district immediately contacted the test supplier, Questar, Inc. (unrelated to Questar III BOCES), and all students’ answers were recovered within 48 hours.

Board member Linda Hopkins said that at Taconic Hills, where she teaches, computer-based ELA testing went off the first day with “no problems,” but the second day brought “the problems you described.”

Board member Sage Carter asked how the children reacted and how “frustration” with the unintentionally lengthy log-in process would affect their test results.

“They were great. No one lost their temper,” gushed Ms. Prestipino. She said she was “impressed by how patient the teachers and students were getting on.” And the apparent disappearance of some students’ answers caused anxiety only for adults.

School officials said that what more than compensated for the problems was that students “liked the test. They actually wrote longer answers” than fifth graders were accustomed to write on the written part.

“It’s not whether they liked the test, it’s whether they did well,” said Ms. Carter.

Comparing computer with paper test scores statewide will be possible when results become available.

In order to justify computer based testing, both handwriting and paper flipping were spoken of as undesirable burdens. “I went into the 4th grade test room,” reported Ms. Prestipino. “And they were flipping, flipping, flipping,” to look at written passages relevant to the test questions. In computer testing, a question is on one side of the screen and the pertinent reading passage on the other. In addition, she said that the students liked typing better than handwriting. Computers “level the playing field” between children who have trouble handwriting and those who do not, she said.

Handwriting did not used to be such a struggle, observed Ms. Carter.

For the math assessment, the 8th grade will pilot computer testing. Ms. Prestipino expected a “manageable” amount of test takers, because many 8th graders take Regents exams that excuse them from assessments, and others opt out.

That observation prompted district Superintendent Maria L. Suttmeier to address the topic of elementary students absorbing “this culture of ‘I don’t want to take a test.’ And then they get to high school and can’t opt out of the Regents.”

Also at the meeting, Dr. Suttmeier announced that Hudson High School held its first home track meet Thursday, April 12, and “the kids were just thrilled.” Before the new track was built as part of the district’s Capital Project, Hudson’s track teams could compete only at other schools due to lack of suitable facilities at home. On April 12, Hudson’s team faced Coxsackie-Athens, and–according to Dr. Suttmeier—each team won about half the events. The only glitch occurred that day when the pole vault facility was found to lack some necessary equipment. The district has contacted the manufacturer about supplying the right equipment and dropped pole vaulting from the April 12 meet.

On another sports related matter, Dr. Suttmeier announced that concrete was being poured for additional home-crowd bleachers.

In other business:

• Dr. Suttmeier said that if enough students enter kindergarten, the district will have to hire an additional kindergarten teacher. In that case, the district will have to drop its planned second school resource officer—unless the district receives extra aid after the budget vote, as sometimes happens

• The board welcomed Gary Strompf as a new custodian effective May 2. Mr. Strompf lives in Copake and formerly sold drug testing kits

• The board accepted the June retirement of Robert Bratton from the custodial staff after 16 years of service. “Bob has been a pleasure to work with,” said Dr. Suttmeier

• On Wednesday, May 9 there will be a kick-off for the solar panels on the high school grounds, which cost the HCSD nothing and which are expected to reduce its electric bills.

The next meeting of the HCSD Board of education will take place May 1 at 6:30 p.m. at the Hudson High School library. It will take place Tuesday, instead of the usual Monday, and include a budget hearing.

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