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Tests Aligned to Common Core in New York State Trigger Score Drops

standards_400.jpgUPDATED

Test scores in New York state, its first under tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards in English/language arts and math, show sharp declines in student performance in grades 3-8 for the 2012-13 school year, as officials try to assure parents that the new scores don't reflect a major drop in students' academic understanding, just tougher performance standards.

Statewide, the statewide ELA proficiency rates dropped from 55.1 percent on the non-common-core-aligned exams from the 2011-12 school year, to 31.1 percent in the 2012-13 school year. In math, the proficiency rates declined from 64.8 percent to 31 percent. There are significant achievement gaps between the state figures for all students and subgroups: Only 16.1 percent of black students scored proficient on the ELA exam, for example, compared to 39.9 percent of white students, while 17.7 percent of Hispanics in New York state did so.

These exams are not the "common assessments" that are being developed by two multi-state consortia—the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, the consortium to which New York state belongs, won't roll out the final versions of those tests until the 2014-15 school year. The scores released today were on tests developed by Pearson.

UPDATE: New York State Commissioner of Education John King, in a press conference, said that the scores released Aug. 7 should not be seen as a reflection on districts, schools, and teachers, but a new "baseline" to measure students' college- and career-readiness going forward.

"The changes in scores do not mean that schools have taught less or that students have learned less," King said.

Asked about the upcoming PARCC tests and whether New York state will see yet another dramatic shift in scores for the 2014-15 school year because of those new assessments, King responded he felt confident that the scores from the Pearson tests accurately assessed the common core and that PARCC tests would not represent a big shift.

Despite the new, dramatically lower proficiency rates, New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said that in the future, there will in fact be less emphasis on test preparation, and more on actual instruction and curriculum.

"Perhaps most disheartening is the persistence of the achievement gap," Tisch told reporters, referencing score differences between results from white and Asian students and those of black and Hispanic students.

Reaction also poured in from various advocacy groups and other K-12 organizations. For example, Michael Cohen, president of Achieve, the education group that is overseeing PARCC, said regarding the New York test scores that rather than a cause for panic, they represented an opportunity for teachers, schools, and others "to work together and double down on efforts to systematically improve classroom instruction."

But others, like Chris Cerrone, who runs an anti-testing blog focused on New York, had a different view that emphasized how the rhetoric about better preparation for college and careers through these kinds of assessments is fool's gold:

Remember, there are two key ways to discuss just how much the test scores dropped. One way is to look at the percentage-point drops. But another is to compare the proportion of students scoring proficient. If you use the latter method, then the drop-off looks even worse. So for example, before the test scores were released, New York City schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott predicted score drops of around 30 percent—if you interpret those comments to mean percentage points, Walcott appears to have been in the ballpark with his estimate. But if you compare the proportion of those proficiency percentages from 2012 and 2013, the score drops statewide in ELA plunged by 43 percent, and in math, the drop was even more precipitous, at 52 percent.

A lot of the comparisons have been made to the previous year's test scores. But as Lindsey Christ at the NY1 news website points out with respect to Big Apple test scores, city test scores peaked in 2009, with proficiency rates of 70 percent on the English/language arts tests and 82 percent in math. So when compared to students' recent top performance, the shift to the common core and subsequent tumble has been even more dramatic.

One interesting aspect of the New York state test-score release is the role U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan played. As Gotham Schools reporter Philissa Cramer reported Aug. 6, Duncan participated in a conference call with reporters in which he stated that, "We should absolutely not be alarmed if these test scores drop." Recently, he has stepped up his efforts to publicly defend the common core, and his decision to wade into the discussion about the New York state scores could be another part of that strategy.

It's worth noting, however, that when Kentucky released its first-in-the-nation test scores from state assessments explicitly aligned to the new standards, Duncan did not take part in any public-relations campaign to explain what Bluegrass State schools were up to. (Kentucky was the first state to adopt the common core back in 2010.)

Photo:New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, left, talks about standardized test scores during a news conference, in New York, Wednesday. He is joined by New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, from left, New York City Schools Chief Accountability Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky, and state Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch. —Richard Drew/AP

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