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New York State Assessment Scores Take Nosedive as Expected

The results are in from a big-state assessment based on the Common Core State Standards. The news from New York isn't good — and that's just what the state expected.

According to State Education Commissioner John King, Jr. the percentage of students deemed "proficient" is significantly lower than in 2011-2012 for the results of the April 2013 grades 3 through 8 math and English language arts (ELA) assessments. Thirty-one percent of students in those grades met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard compared to 55 percent in the previous year; the same proportion met or exceeded the math proficiency standard versus 65 percent for the prior year. The state is referring to the drop in outcomes as setting a "new baseline" for student learning.

New York, along with most other states, has been transitioning its instruction in the last year to the Common Core, a more demanding set of standards intended to more accurately reflect student progress toward college and career readiness.

The state expects the transition to take a full seven years. The first cohort of students to graduate from high school under the Common Core standards will be the class of 2017.

The stakes are high in the journey to readiness, according to some sources. Leadership network organization CEOs for Cities estimates that New York could capture a $17.5 billion "talent dividend," if the state could increase its college attainment by just one percent. Along the same lines, should American students perform at the same level in math as Canadian students, the national economy would add a trillion dollars, reported the Wall Street Journal last year.

"The world has changed, the economy has changed, and what our students need to know has changed," said Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch. "These scores reflect a new baseline and a new beginning. We have just finished the first year of a dramatic shift in teaching and learning. Teachers, principals, superintendents, and school boards have worked extraordinarily hard to implement the Common Core. With the right tools, the right training, and continuous feedback and support, our teachers — the best teaching force in the country — will make sure all our students are prepared for college and career success in the 21st century.

Better to have students challenged now, Tisch added, "when teachers and parents are there to help — than frustrated later when they start college or try to find a job and discover they are unprepared."

During the transition to the new standards, the hit to New York students seeking to graduate could be dramatic. Under the 2012 requirements, 74 percent of them would graduate; that number would drop to 35 percent under the "college and career-ready" standards.

Note that the students took paper-based assessments, not online ones. New York is part of the Partnership for the Assessment of College and Career Readiness (PARCC) consortium working to create a set of online assessments based on the Common Core. According to a state education department spokeswoman, those assessments are expected to go online in 2014-2015, at the same time other states have shifted their high-stakes testing to an online format.

King said that the new results are consistent with other findings, including the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), New York State student performance on the SAT and PSAT, and college and career readiness scores on New York State's high school Regents exams. For example, national data shows that fewer than 40 percent of students nationally meet college-ready benchmarks and NAEP proficiency standards, according to Michael Cohen, president of Achieve, the organization that formed PARCC.

Also, the latest results will have no impact on accountability for teachers or principals. The ratings from those evaluations, in fact, are similar in proportion within each category — highly effective, effective, developing, and ineffective — as they were for the previous year. The majority of teachers fell into the "effective" category during both years.

A panel of 95 teachers, principals and other educators from around the state set the new "cut" scores used to rate student proficiency on a scale of one to four.

King recently notified school districts not to misuse the data generated from this first year of assessment based on the new standards. That included asking the Board of Regents to adjust its guidance on Academic Intervention Services (AIS), which are used to assign interventions such as supplementing instruction for general curriculum and providing student support services to address barriers in learning. Likewise, no new districts will be identified as "Focus Districts," and no new schools will be identified as "Priority Schools" based on the 2012-2013 assessment results.

Other findings of the statewide exam results:

  • The achievement gap persists. The ELA results show that 16 percent of African-American students and 18 percent of Hispanic students met or exceeded the proficiency standard compared to 40 percent for white students;
  • Three percent of English language learners (ELLs) met or exceeded the ELA standard and 10 percent of ELLs met or exceeded the math standard;
  • Five percent of students with disabilities met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard and seven percent met or exceeded the math proficiency standard.
  • The "big five" city school districts — Buffalo, Yonkers, New York City, Rochester, and Syracuse — saw a smaller percentage of their students hitting proficiency targets than the rest of the state. For example, in Buffalo 11.5 percent of students came in as proficient in ELA and 10 percent met the math proficiency cut score.

School superintendents quickly added their voices of support for the new assessments, reiterating the state message that the latest results are setting new benchmarks.

"The question for educators and parents is not how these scores compare to past assessments," said Bolgen Vargas, superintendent of the Rochester City School District. "It's whether we have the instructional resources and supports in place to grow from this baseline rapidly. I am confident that we are creating a sense of urgency to implement the changes necessary to improve student achievement as we move forward, such as giving our teachers and students more time and support."

Vargas' comments were seconded by Mike Ford, superintendent of Phelps-Clifton Springs Central School District. "The key point is to recognize that no one should be surprised or confused. The scores create a new baseline. This lets us know what we have to do moving forward. Our teachers have worked harder in the last 12 months than they ever have in their lives. These scores are hard to see after all of that hard work, but we have to understand that this is a marathon, not a sprint. We have to keep working towards our goal which is to prepare our kids for the world they're entering."

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