At long last, state offers evidence that test standards are low

In recent years, teachers, principals, parents, and much of the city’s press have met the annual unveiling of climbing test scores with increased skepticism, if not outright incredulity.

Today the State Education Department officially caught up to them and said yes, the results were too good to be true.

At a meeting of the Board of Regents this morning, Commissioner David Steiner presented (webcast) an analysis of state tests performed by Harvard University testing expert Daniel Koretz and New York University assistant professor Jennifer Jennings. The analysis shows that even though a greater percentage of students are passing the state’s exams than several years ago, many of these students are not prepared for high school or college.

Much of the criticism has focused on the state’s tests for elementary and middle school students and Steiner emphasized today that high school scores are exaggerated as well. Many students who pass the math Regents exam, even by a margin of 15 points, flounder in college, Steiner said.

Younger students who meet the state’s proficiency standards are moving onto high school with low chances of passing the Regents exams required for graduation. Those who do pass the Regents exams, even by a wide margin, are graduating without the skill level to get into college or, if they get in, to pass their courses.

Using an analogy (tests : educators :: thermometers : doctors), Steiner said New York’s thermometers aren’t very trustworthy.

According to the testing analysis, students who score below an 80 on their math Regents exams — well over the 65 required to pass — stand a good chance of being placed in remedial math courses in college. Many won’t even get to college, as the chance of them scoring at least a 500 on the math SAT is about 28 percent.

“I am saying that that figure of 80 is a fulcrum point,” Steiner said. “That below it you are just not a student who is going to score well on your SATs. And above it you are a student who will score well on your SATs.”

For the state’s English Regents exam, that fulcrum point is a 75.

Students in grades three through eight who sit through the state’s annual math and English exams have also been getting inflated results, Steiner said.

Eighth graders who score a level 3 — meaning proficient — on the math test have less than a one in three chance of getting an 80 on their math Regents. Those who get a level 3 on the ELA tests have a one in two chance of getting a 75 on the ELA Regents.

The Commissioner said he planned to improve the tests by making them more difficult. In the future, he said, they will cover more material and have higher proficiency bars. As soon as next year, they will also be significantly longer.

In New York City, a spokesman for the Department of Education said the analysis does not put the city’s rising test scores in doubt because city students’ scores are improving at a faster rate than students’ scores across the state.

State officials have refused to release Koretz’s full analysis.