scrutinizing the scores

Consistent with national trends, city and state NAEP results show little change

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

New York City and New York state’s scores on the test known as the nation’s report card stagnated this year, with fourth-grade math scores declining slightly.

The numbers, released Wednesday, mirror national trends. Across the country, fourth- and eighth-graders posted lower scores on the math and reading tests than in 2013, the last time the tests were administered.

“We’re trying not to read too much in a decline in at this point
,” said Peggy Carr, acting commissioner of the National Center of Education Statistics, which administers NAEP. “We understand it’s a pattern consistent across many states, but … we don’t know yet if these changes we’re talking about today are long-term.
”

New York City’s scores are near or above the averages for other large urban school systems in all categories except for fourth-grade math, but lag well behind national averages. Experts say, though, that the lack of growth since 2013 isn’t especially meaningful.

“On challenging assessments like NAEP it’s really hard to move the needle,” said Aaron Pallas, a professor of sociology and education at Teachers College at Columbia University. “You’re not likely to see big changes over relatively brief periods of time.”

Nationwide, scores in both subjects have risen significantly over time, suggesting that the average American student’s skills have improved over the last two decades. Math scores have risen by 27 points out of 500 and reading scores have risen by 10 points since the exams were first given, but achievement gaps between black and white students have not narrowed substantially.

U.S. students have taken the NAEP exams every two years since the early 1990s in an effort to provide a consistent measure of student performance at a time when states’ standards varied widely. Many states are now adopting new tests that reflect shared standards, potentially allowing for more detailed and frequent comparisons of students across the country.

For years, New York’s NAEP scores showed that a smaller share of its students were proficient at reading and math than its state tests did. That spurred calls to change New York’s tests, which were overhauled in 2010 to curb score inflation and again in 2013 to align with the new Common Core learning standards.

According to an analysis released six months ago, New York was one of only two states with state tests tougher than NAEP. This year, that was true in fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math, but not for the other two tests.

Pallas said the differences between the two metrics are worth exploring, but cautioned that declines should not be taken as a statement on city or state policy.

“You should never think of NAEP, or even the state assessments, as a referendum on a particular package of policies or reforms,” he said.

ASD scores

In Tennessee’s turnaround district, 9 in 10 young students fall short on their first TNReady exams

PHOTO: Scott Elliott

Nine out of 10 of elementary- and middle-school students in Tennessee’s turnaround district aren’t scoring on grade level in English and math, according to test score data released Thursday.

The news is unsurprising: The Achievement School District oversees 32 of the state’s lowest-performing schools. But it offers yet another piece of evidence that the turnaround initiative has fallen far short of its ambitious original goal of vaulting struggling schools to success.

Around 5,300 students in grades 3-8 in ASD schools took the new, harder state exam, TNReady, last spring. Here’s how many scored “below” or “approaching,” meaning they did not meet the state’s standards:

  • 91.8 percent of students in English language arts;
  • 91.5 percent in math;
  • 77.9 percent in science.

View scores for all ASD schools in our spreadsheet

In all cases, ASD schools’ scores fell short of state averages, which were all lower than in the past because of the new exam’s higher standards. About 66 percent of students statewide weren’t on grade level in English language arts, 62 percent weren’t on grade level in math, and 41 percent fell short in science.

ASD schools also performed slightly worse, on average, than the 15 elementary and middle schools in Shelby County Schools’ Innovation Zone, the district’s own initiative for low-performing schools. On average, about 89 percent of iZone students in 3-8 weren’t on grade level in English; 84 percent fell short of the state’s standards in math.

The last time that elementary and middle schools across the state received test scores, in 2015, ASD schools posted scores showing faster-than-average improvement. (Last year’s tests for grades 3-8 were canceled because of technical problems.)

The low scores released today suggest that the ASD’s successes with TCAP, the 2015 exam, did not carry over to the higher standards of TNReady.

But Verna Ruffin, the district’s new chief of academics, said the scores set a new bar for future growth and warned against comparing them to previous results.

“TNReady has more challenging questions and is based on a different, more rigorous set of expectations developed by Tennessee educators,” Ruffin said in a statement. “For the Achievement School District, this means that we will use this new baseline data to inform instructional practices and strategically meet the needs of our students and staff as we acknowledge the areas of strength and those areas for improvement.”

Some ASD schools broke the mold and posted some strong results. Humes Preparatory Middle School, for example, had nearly half of students meet or exceed the state’s standards in science, although only 7 percent of students in math and 12 percent in reading were on grade level.

Thursday’s score release also included individual high school level scores. View scores for individual schools throughout the state as part of our spreadsheet here.

Are Children Learning

School-by-school TNReady scores for 2017 are out now. See how your school performed

PHOTO: Zondra Williams/Shelby County Schools
Students at Wells Station Elementary School in Memphis hold a pep rally before the launch of state tests, which took place between April 17 and May 5 across Tennessee.

Nearly six months after Tennessee students sat down for their end-of-year exams, all of the scores are now out. State officials released the final installment Thursday, offering up detailed information about scores for each school in the state.

Only about a third of students met the state’s English standards, and performance in math was not much better, according to scores released in August.

The new data illuminates how each school fared in the ongoing shift to higher standards. Statewide, scores for students in grades 3-8, the first since last year’s TNReady exam was canceled amid technical difficulties, were lower than in the past. Scores also remained low in the second year of high school tests.

“These results show us both where we can learn from schools that are excelling and where we have specific schools or student groups that need better support to help them achieve success – so they graduate from high school with the ability to choose their path in life,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said in a statement.

Did some schools prepare teachers and students better for the new state standards, which are similar to the Common Core? Was Memphis’s score drop distributed evenly across the city’s schools? We’ll be looking at the data today to try to answer those questions.

Check out all of the scores in our spreadsheet or on the state website and add your questions and insights in the comments.