Shock, suggestions, and silver linings in test score reactions

Just as soon as the state’s new test scores were released — and even before, in the case of mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio — reactions started flying about the sobering news about student achievement in New York.

The reactions ranged from shocked (in the case of an advocate for English language learners) to constructive (AFT chief Randi Weingarten, who offered a takeaway for other states) to pleased (charter school operator Eva Moskowitz, whose schools posted high scores on the new exams).

Below, I’ve compiled the complete set of reactions that dropped into my inbox today. I’ll add to the list as more reactions roll in.

James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center:

The results confirm what educators across New York City have known for some time—the majority of our students aren’t on track for success in college and beyond. This is clear proof that we need continued reform of the system – we must move forward not backwards. We should applaud the impressive scores of highly successful charters, including the Success, Icahn, Achievement First, and Uncommon Schools networks, independent schools including South Bronx Classical Charter School and Bronx Charter School for Excellence, as well as those traditional district schools that are beating the odds. If there was ever a time to learn from our best schools, whether charter or district, it’s today.

Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition:

Today’s shocking results show what we already knew to be true – that despite their vast potential and unique language skills, English language learners are being left far behind by our education system, from declining ELL graduation rates, single-digit college-and-career preparedness levels, and the growing achievement gap. New York State and New York City must take urgent action to ensure equality for all students. We are ready to work with the state and city to provide better instruction and better schools that highlight ELLs’ unique strengths and challenges, assessments that better measure their abilities, and increased parent engagement that makes immigrant parents a true stakeholder in their children’s education.

AFT President Randi Weingarten:

After months of inoculating warnings that the first results of the Common Core testing would be disappointing, no one should be surprised. These results are the consequence of years of intense fixation on test prep and rote memorization instead of developing the critical-thinking and problem-solving skills our kids need. They are the consequence of simply telling teachers, “Here are new standards—just do it,” without providing the adequate supports and preparation. They are the consequence of putting testing before teaching and learning, and rolling out tests before teachers and students even have the tools, curriculum and material to bring the Common Core into the classroom. The low scores will be used by some as an excuse to throw out the Common Core or denigrate public education; those are the wrong lessons. But it does show the impact of having an accountability system based on teaching to the test instead of developing the skills kids need. … These results should serve as a warning siren for states and districts across the country rushing to make the Common Core about tests and not about ensuring that the necessary shifts in instruction have occurred—especially to state education chiefs in states like New Mexico and Rhode Island who are being offered additional time to get this transition right but are refusing to take it.

Ocynthia Williams of the Coalition for Educational Justice:

Today is a sad day for NYC, as parents find out for the second time in three years that their children are not doing as well as the DOE has said, and not on track for academic success. In the city’s most struggling districts, 90% of students are not meeting state reading and writing standards. CEJ has always been for high standards with a plan to help schools and students meet them. CEJ calls on the mayoral candidates to make this sad day into a turning point, by committing that under their watch, NYC students will finally get a rich, challenging and diverse curriculum, supports and training for teachers, social-emotional services and real engagement of families and communities.

Ernest Logan, president of the Council of School Supervisors and Principals, which represents administrators:

The decrease in state test scores is no surprise considering that the new tougher tests were introduced before a comprehensive curriculum was rolled out for the Common Core and before adequate professional development was provided to our teachers and administrators.  We don’t want these scores to end up undermining the success of the Comm on Core, placing  the blame on educators and decimating the self-esteem of children. We trust that education officials will stick to their word not to punish schools for low scores and we can look forward to core standards that will gradually elevate our children’s critical thinking skills and broaden their perspective on life and learning.

Republican mayoral candidate Joe Lhota:

We must do better in educating our children and preparing them for the rigors of competing in a global 21st Century. The release of today’s Common Core math and English test scores will undoubtedly illicit varying opinions about their meaning and efficacy in assessing student’s learning. But it’s important to look at the entire picture, rather than isolated facts. Test scores are lower, but for the first time, students were tested on new, more demanding material. Education reform continues to be one of my top priorities and a Lhota Administration will remain committed to helping our children excel in these new requirements. We have already begun to transform New York City’s public education system under mayoral control and the expansion of charter schools. Our objective must be to set the highest standards possible, while giving our educators and students the resources they need to help them achieve their goals. We must not allow politics or special interests to come between the success of our children.

Jonathan Schleifer of the teacher advocacy group Educators 4 Excellence:

The scores released today are a wake up call to all education stakeholders in New York. This is a teachable moment, not a political one. Although disappointing, the results are not a failure of students or a failure of teachers, but they are an indication that the system needs to do better. E4E teachers see the Common Core State Standards as the best tool available to prepare their students for college and careers, because it is designed to teach our children how to think for themselves. In addition these scores show us that we need to continue to give teachers more meaningful support and feedback through the City’s new evaluation system, Advance. Moving forward, teachers must be a part of the conversation. Officials should solicit feedback from educators on the quality of tests and their preparation. The goal must be ensuring that we’re providing teachers and administrators with the proper training and professional development to fulfill the aspirations of the Common Core. New Yorkers, and especially New York City’s teachers, don’t shy away from hard work – but we do demand the tools we need to succeed to help serve our students.

Eva Moskowitz, CEO of the Success Academies Charter Schools network:

For years, we and other educators have asked for more rigorous tests which would go beyond filling in bubbles to measure whether kids are learning at the level they need to succeed in life. These new tests are much closer to the mark. Parents finally know if their kids are ready for college. Our results are a reflection of our commitment to critical thinking, high standards, and lots and lots of hard work by our students, teachers and families.

Nathalie Elivert, StudentsFirstNY’s director of educator outreach:

If we aspire to provide children with a meaningful public education that will expand their range of opportunities, we must invest our energy in an honest dialogue about what these results mean, one that is not about scoring political points. The possibility presented, in this moment, will be squandered if we approach the assessment of standards based learning with fear and accusation.

Mayoral candidate and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio:

This is a major wake-up call. We can’t keep working at the margins and focusing on a handful of niche schools. We need a game-changer to raise outcomes for kids across the board. Comprehensive early education is the only way to achieve it. That’s why I’ve laid out a plan to raise taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers to fund truly universal pre-k for every child in New York City, and to expand after-school programs. Investing in an early start and keeping kids on grade level through those early years is the only way to overcome crippling educational disparities.

Helen Rosenthal, City Council candidate from the Upper West Side:

For years, Mayor Bloomberg has tried to stymie public criticism of his war on teachers by claiming that his education reforms were working. He’s misled the public all along. The test scores announced today were released in typical Tweed fashion—without parental engagement or teacher involvement, and from behind closed doors—all to pit teachers, schools and parents against one another. Adding insult to injury, the mayor has again displayed his contempt for parents’ role in the education system by withholding individual test scores for another two weeks. As a City Council member, I’ll work to reverse this dangerous trend and bring parents, advocates, and other stakeholders into the process to result in better educational outcome for students on the Upper West Side and across the city. In the meantime, the mayor must pledge not to use these scores in any high-stakes decisions that affect the future of our schools.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew:

This is a man-made disaster. It should not have been. The Common Core standards are something teachers fully embrace and support. They are harder, but when used properly will teach reasoning, critical thinking skills, things that children need to move forward. The scores would have dropped this year, but they should not have dropped to this level.  We knew three years ago that this state was moving to the Common Core tests. We have been asking for curriculum based on the new standards since that point.  This mayor chose to ignore all of our pleas.  Many teachers still don’t have a curriculum to develop the lesson plans they need for their classes. But there’s a larger issue.  For years the Mayor has focused the schools on prepping for previous state tests that had to be thrown out because they were unreliable, on closing schools, ignoring parents and demonizing teachers.  Instead, the administration could have been working with all parties to anticipate the Common Core, creating the city’s own rigorous curriculum, instructional materials and teacher professional development that would have raised the real standard of learning in New York City schools. With mayoral control, the mayor could have made these changes before the state pushed Common Core. We could have been ahead of everyone. It didn’t happen, and our children are suffering for it.

Northeast Charter Schools Network President Bill Phillips:

These new baseline scores are bracing. Despite better relative performance in math and English when compared to host districts, the hard reality is most charter schools are challenged by low proficiency rates. Fortunately, charters are known for being flexible and accountable for performance, because we all have a lot of work to do.

SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, CUNY Interim Chancellor William Kelly, and Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities President Laura Anglin:

We are proud that New York State is leading the country in embracing the high standards represented by the Common Core. As leaders of the higher education systems in New York, we applaud the State Education Department for its leadership and commend New York State school leaders, teachers and staff who have devoted their time and expertise to implementation. … This challenge will not be met in one day or one year. Achieving college readiness is a cumulative process, requiring ongoing determination. We look forward to the day when high school graduates in pursuit of a college education have had the full benefit of the new standards. Over time, higher standards will significantly benefit our students, and our state’s competitiveness. Rigorous preparation must remain a statewide priority. We will continue to work with our state’s elementary and secondary school colleagues and partners in their ongoing efforts to achieve these important goals.

Nancy Cauthen, parent member of Change the Stakes:

Many parents and educators  reject official explanations that “tougher standards” and “harder tests” account for the plunge in this year’s test scores. What about the fact that the state rushed ahead to test children on material they hadn’t been taught? What about the fact that the test themselves were horribly flawed? Teachers and students reported that the instructions were confusing, questions were poorly worded and many appeared to have more than one correct answer. Also, the exams (particularly the ELA) were far too long, leaving too many children to run out of time. What about reports from teachers who scored the tests that many children lost points simply because they didn’t understand the question? Despite widespread calls for full disclosure of the tests and transparency regarding how the tests were scored and proficiency levels determined, SED and DOE have all but ignored the criticisms. Although the state belatedly decided to release selected questions, we can’t help but wonder if the purpose was to get reporters to move off of stories about the scores themselves. In any case, this token gesture toward transparency will not put to rest suspicions that this year’s widespread “failure” was planned and politically-motivated. “Test-based accountability” has lost all credibility. New York’s latest fiasco will serve only to fuel the rebellion against high-stakes testing. Standardized tests never should have been used to hold children back, evaluate teachers and close schools. We will fight until the practice ends.

Rosalie Friend, NYC information coordinator of Save Our Schools:

To understand the drop in scores on the New York State tests, realize that because there is no standard unit of measurement, tests of school achievement can be easily manipulated. When you measure a child’s height, an inch is always an inch.  When you try to measure school learning, there is no set standard for what children should learn or how they can show that they learned it.  This is why standardized tests can be manipulated by politicians. We should return to hiring only licensed teachers whose preparation includes assessment.  We should trust them to evaluate the child’s work in every medium over the full year of classes.  A portfolio of student work can be used to support the teacher’s judgement of what the child has achieved.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr.:

… In this case, the alarmingly low passage rates seem to validate all along, that for 12 years, the DOE has been promoting a policy of teaching to the test.  If real learning and skill development were happening in our schools, wouldn’t more of that educational attainment have been reflected in the new tests? … We should incorporate, and place greater emphasis, on other and better pedagogical metrics to ascertain academic growth and achievement.  It’s inconsistent to celebrate Common Core for implementing critical thinking testing on students, when we as educators invest such incredible blind faith in the infallibility of standardized tests.

This post was updated with additional reactions.