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August 7, 2013
What N.Y. students actually had to do to pass the math tests
Fourth graders in New York State answered this question about multiply whole numbers on their math exams this spring. Along with this year's test scores — lower than in the past, if you haven't heard — the State Education Department also released test questions today. The items posted on the department's educator resource website, EngageNY, represent a quarter of the questions that students faced when they sat down to take Common Core-aligned exams this spring. Usually the state keeps test questions under wraps, but this year it decided to publish some of them because of the new, tougher standards. Critics of the state's testing practices say transparency can't be achieved if the entire test isn't released, and we don't know how well students did on each of the questions that have been released. Still, they offer a view into the skills and practices that students were asked to demonstrate, and a discussion of test scores without a discussion of what counted is thin indeed. That's why we've collected a sample of the questions asked at each grade level on the state's math exams. (EngageNY has more questions, in-depth explanations about how to solve and teach each problem, and, for questions that asked students to show their work, examples of student responses.) We're hoping to spur a conversation about the questions that's even better than the one that already happened on Twitter today. Check out the test questions below, then let us know in the comments what your favorite and least favorite is and why. We'll be highlighting insightful responses on Thursday. In third grade, 33.1 percent of city students tested proficient in math.
August 7, 2013
Test scores fall sharply statewide, but NYC fares relatively well
The state's first round of Common Core test scores are out and they are just as low as officials warned. But there is some good news for New York City: Its scores are close to the state average, and far ahead of those of other large cities.
August 7, 2013
Four big questions to ask about New York City's new test scores
Last year, 60 percent of city students in grades 3-8 scored "proficient" or higher on the state math tests and 47 percent passed the state reading tests. This year, the first that the tests were tied to new learning standards known as the Common Core, that number will be far lower — 30 percent in math and 26 percent in reading, according to early reports. Here are four things to ask about the test scores, in addition to how low they are. 1. Where are the outliers? All scores are expected to be low, but some will be lower than others. And some will almost certain fall by much less than the average. Identifying those outliers will be a first step in telling the story of schools' first year under the new standards. A school whose scores fall by far less than other similar schools might be the site of exceptional, Common Core-aligned teaching — or there might be more nefarious explanations worth looking into. On the other hand, a school whose scores drop by even more than other schools like it might have been propping up its performance in the past using test prep — that will be worth looking into, too. The scores alone won't tell the story of what has happened inside a single school, but they can provide a starting point. 2. What happened to achievement gaps? The Bloomberg administration has touted reductions in the racial achievement gap even after state officials announced that test scores had been inflated. The state's test scores have showed some narrowing. But on other measures, including the National Assessment of Educational Progress, racial achievement gaps have barely budged.
August 7, 2013
A packed calendar for test score announcement day
Around 9:30 a.m., test score data will go up on the State Education Department’s website. You’ll be able to find it here. At 10…
August 6, 2013
Arne Duncan steps in to assuage fears about N.Y. test scores
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said New York's new test scores should be a benchmark for growth, not cause for concern. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wants New Yorkers not to worry when they see the latest round of state test scores on Wednesday. The scores are from the first tests to measure students' skills under the Common Core standards, and state officials have said the scores are "significantly lower" than in the past. They have warned that the scores are more in line with assessments that show a statewide college-readiness rate of about a third than with last year's test scores, where more than half of students were deemed proficient in English and two thirds in math. "We should absolutely not be alarmed if these test scores drop," Duncan said today during a phone call with reporters. Duncan has good reason to want to assuage concerns about the lower scores. While the U.S. Department of Education does not impose state learning standards, Duncan made support for shared standards a consideration in the Race to the Top funding competition, and he has defended the Common Core vigorously.
August 6, 2013
Mayoral hopefuls hit Bloomberg over looming test score decline
Mayoral candidates have declared open season on Mayor Bloomberg's education legacy on the eve of new test scores that will be much lower than in the past. What began last week as a fight between the teachers union and City Hall spilled out onto the campaign trail this week with a flurry of critical comments from Democratic contenders about test score gains under Bloomberg and his eagerness to tout them as evidence of his administration's success. "The days of the mayor dislocating his shoulder patting himself on the back should be over," Anthony Weiner told reporters this morning at an education event. Weiner said it wasn't "entirely fair" to blame Bloomberg for the anticipated drop in scores, which reflect student performance on state tests that were for the first time aligned to more challenging learning standards known as the Common Core. But Weiner later added that the "constant emphasis on testing in schools has created nothing but trouble" and even suggested that Bloomberg helped "fudge" the scores at top-performing schools for political gain. "There was a spate of press conferences about how amazing schools were doing that were later discredited when those numbers came crashing back to Earth," Weiner said.
August 5, 2013
Before lower test scores arrive, a fight over how to interpret them
Union and city officials are sparring in advance of tough test score news that arrives at a pivotal moment for Mayor Bloomberg's education legacy. Scores due out on Wednesday reflect students' performance on the first tests tied to the new Common Core standards, which aim to get students solving complex problems and thinking critically. State officials have long warned that the new tests would produce lower scores, which they say will more accurately reflect students' skills, and in April, teachers and students reported that the tests were indeed challenging. After the state sent a letter to principals on Friday confirming that the scores would be "significantly lower" than in the past, the United Federation of Teachers argued — as it has before — that the news will undermine Bloomberg's claims of education progress. Chancellor Dennis Walcott called the union's criticism “despicable” and “really sad” during a conference call with reporters on Sunday. “What they're trying to do is politicize something that shouldn't be politicized at all," he said. Instead, Walcott emphasized that the scores should be seen as a baseline against which to measure future improvement. Walcott and Shael Polakow-Suransky, the department’s chief academic officer, said they would not be comparing this year’s test scores to scores from past years. "You can't compare these directly because they're not just slightly different tests, they're dramatically different tests," Polakow-Suransky said. "It's going to be difficult to make close comparisons with old state exams."
August 2, 2013
Along with scores, state will release test items next week
Spreadsheets and official statements aren't the only information that will get released next week when New York education officials announce the results of this year's state tests. State officials announced today that they'll also be releasing a "significant number" of questions from the new Common Core-aligned tests that students took in April. Schools will have access to the results on Monday, and scores will be released to the public on Wednesday. The decision to release tests to the public is a departure from the State Education Department's history of keeping the tests secure, as it has done for the past several years. Officials have argued that not releasing test items makes future tests less predictable and keeps down costs, since new tests don't need to be designed each year. But this year's tests, the first that were aligned to more challenging learning standards know as the Common Core, were clearly an exception. Big drops in proficiency rates are expected, with various estimates ranging from 10 points in math to nearly 30 points in English. State tests have been under fire since last year's tests were shown to be riddled with errors. One multiple choice question that was accompanied with a nonsensical reading passage about a pineapple attracted widespread ridicule.
July 24, 2013
King won't change cut score advice for new Common Core tests
Contrasting his administration to previous ones, which have been criticized for inflating state test scores, State Education Commissioner John King agreed to accept proficiency bars recommended by a committee of educators with no revisions, as captured in this simple slide. Commissioner John King pledged this week to accept the "cut scores" recommended to him by a committee of educators, one of the final steps remaining before the state releases results from the state tests. Cut scores determine the number of right answers students need on state English and math tests to be deemed proficient in the subjects. The announcement at this month's Board of Regents meeting came in the middle of a detailed 46-page slideshow presentation outlining how the "cut score" recommendations were made. But while the other slides were packed with numbers, graphs, and paragraphs, King's 10-word acceptance of the standards got its own simple slide: "The Commissioner accepted recommendations from Day 5 with no changes." (The full slideshow is below the jump.) The flourish was a signal of the new transparency the department is trying to project around test scoring. In 2009, under then-Commissioner Richard Mills, dramatic improvements on state tests that had been seen as signs of academic progress across the state came under scrutiny for being inflated — not representing actual learning gains. The inflation seems to have been the result of several factors, including focused test prep by teachers who became increasingly familiar with the tests. But at least one observer, Sol Stern, has reported that state officials might have deliberately inflated results by lowering cut scores so that more students would be deemed proficient. Commissioners do not have to accept the recommendations of the committee of educators that suggests where to set the scores.
May 22, 2013
More principals pledge not to use test scores to admit students
More principals have committed to ignoring test scores when selecting students for admission, in a growing show of concern about the state's new Common Core-aligned reading and math tests. Principals began making the commitment last week, but the number grew on Tuesday when letters explaining the policy change went out to "Elementary and Middle School Families, Students, Teachers, Parent Coordinators, Counselors and Principals" who might be affected by it. Now, 15 principals of selective schools across the city have said they will not consider scores on tests that they say did not meet their expectations. "We appreciate that officials at the New York City Department of Education seem open to hearing our concerns and we hope for the same response from the state," the letter says. The principals are part of a larger group who sent a letter to State Education Commissioner John King this week expressing concerns about the tests. They say they want the state’s tests to be shorter, open to public scrutiny, and more aligned to the Common Core, which emphasizes critical thinking and problem solving over recall and the completion of rote processes.
February 20, 2013
Tweaked promotion policy part of broader prep for lower scores
Changes to the Department of Education's student promotion policy are just one part of a sweeping offensive to prepare schools and families for tougher state tests and lower scores this spring. In April, elementary and middle school students will take state math and reading tests that are aligned for the first time to new learning standards known as the Common Core. Education officials have warned that the state is likely to see scores plummet as a result, as they did in Kentucky — by 30 percent — when that state first administered Common Core-aligned tests. In an email to principals on Friday, Chancellor Dennis Walcott offered reassurance that schools and students would not be penalized just because they post lower test scores this year. And he encouraged principals to use parent conferences over the next few weeks to steel parents for the drop-off.
February 12, 2013
Walcott: Strike absences shouldn't exempt students from exams
Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said on Monday that she thinks students who have missed weeks of school due to the city's school bus strike should not have to take the year's state math and reading tests. Today, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said they should. Speaking at a briefing for reporters about bids for new contracts the city received from bus companies, he said, They should sit [for the tests]. This year has been a very dramatic year for our students, both with the hurricane [Sandy] and with this strike, but we’ve also been working very closely with the schools and working with our principals and providing materials for parents to receive at home as well.
October 1, 2012
New progress reports shift some weight from scores to grades
For the first time since introducing school progress reports in 2007, the Department of Education has reduced the weight of state test scores in determining middle schools' scores on their state test scores. The change is slight, allocating just 5 percent of the calculation toward the grades schools hand out, but it reflects a significant shift within the Department of Education. After years of saying that the state's current tests are not the ideal measure of students' abilities, the department is — to a limited extent — putting its metrics where its mouth is. Until now, 85 percent of elementary and middle schools' scores have come from crunching the scores in different ways. But on the 2011-2012 progress reports, which are coming out today, that proportion has dropped slightly for middle schools, to 80 percent. The difference will be made up by schools' course passage rates in the core subjects of English, math, science, and social studies. The change, which the department promised a year ago, makes year-to-year progress report score comparisons hard to make yet is unlikely to dramatically alter schools' scores on its own. Still, it signals that the city is projecting onto middle schools growing concerns about the mismatch between how city students perform on some high-stakes accountability metrics and how well prepared they are to take on more challenging work.
July 20, 2012
Bloomberg says this year's test scores call for more charters
(Credit: WOR) Mayor Michael Bloomberg said this morning that the test scores announced this week, which showed charter schools had out-paced district schools, are proof enough why the city should be expanding charters. "There's a reason people want to send their children to charter schools," he said during his weekly morning appearance on the John Gambling radio show. The average proficiency rate for charter schools students improved 7 percentage points on the state reading tests and 3.5 percentage points on math. The city's district schools also improved but at a slower pace. Bloomberg blamed the teachers union contract for the districts schools' inability to duplicate the success of privately-managed charter schools, which have longer days and greater flexibility in hiring decisions. But instead of making points about issues such as teacher tenure or seniority-based layoff laws, Bloomberg invoked more salacious news items. "The union keeps protecting people that shouldn’t be in the classroom that touch, have sex, whatever it may be," he said. "It embarrasses other teachers."
July 18, 2012
Seven takeaways from a closer look at the state test scores
The state released the results of this year's third through eighth grade tests yesterday, and officials from City Hall to the charter sector lept to celebrate students' gains. Some changes were the focal point of the Department of Education's Tuesday afternoon press conference—like the drop among English Language Learners and the boosts charter schools saw. But they avoided nuances in the results for the city's new schools, which have been at the center of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's education reform policies. Beyond first impressions, here are seven interesting takeaways we parsed from the trove of data: Like last year, English Language Learners took a step back. Students who are identified as English Language Learners improved slightly in math, but took another step back from the statistical gains they made on the literacy test (ELA) earlier in the decade, before the state made the exams tougher in 2010. While just under half of the city’s non-ELL students met the state’s ELA standards, just 11.6 percent of ELL students did so. But in math, the percentage of ELL students scoring proficient rose by 2.5 points, to 37 percent. But students in other categories that typically struggle showed improvements. The percentage of students with disabilities who are proficient in math and literacy went up again this year, to 30.2 percent in math and 15.8 percent in English. And although Black and Hispanic students are still lagging behind their white peers by close to thirty percentage points in literacy and math, they also saw small bumps in both subjects. Officials said that new initiatives targeting struggling students, particularly students of color, contributed to the gains.
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