Time's (Not) Up: Educators on the Pros and Cons of Untimed State Tests

Apr 15, 2016 · by Beth Fertig


At the East-West School of International Studies in Flushing, Queens, one student took full advantage of the state's decision to remove time limits on this year's tests.  She took eight hours because, her principal said, she wanted to get everything right.

That was a rare exception. Principal Ben Sherman said most of his middle schoolers took about three hours, the same as usual, on each day of testing. Just a handful of English Language Learners and students with special needs needed more time.

Still, he called the opportunity to take as long as they wanted "a bonus for everybody" because it lowered anxiety among students and teachers.

A few other principals contacted by WNYC agreed. One Bronx middle school leader said untimed testing "alleviated pressure," especially for students already struggling with vocabulary and reading comprehension. Elizabeth Culkin, principal of P.S. 176 in Bensonhurst, said her teachers and pupils loved the untimed tests.

"Students were able to concentrate on the reading passages, questions and responses," she said. "In this testing period we witnessed more of a reflective thinking process and that's what reading should measure."

However, one Brooklyn middle school principal - who did not want to be identified - called untimed testing "a horrible experience."

This school leader said children were more stressed, and did not have the maturity to cope with unlimited time. For example, one child who started writing an essay, "change the opening sentence no less than six times," the principal said.

Nor was this an isolated case, because the principal claimed about half of the school's pupils took longer than usual - especially those in gifted classes. The kids didn't appear to labor as much on the math tests.

A few found other problems with untimed tests. One principal, who also didn't want to be quoted, said it was a bit complicated, logistically, to find space for kids finishing at different times in a crowded building.

New York State's Education Department changed the tests in response to a massive protest last year, when 20 percent of third through eighth graders opted out of the math and reading tests. Many parents said they opposed to the state's heavy reliance on standardized testing and the amount of classroom time spent on test prep.

Official estimates of how many students opted out of this year's tests are expected this summer.

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