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August 13, 2014
Six things to look for in the city's 2014 state test scores
One year after the switch to Common Core-aligned tests sent the city’s proficiency rates plummeting 24 percentage points in reading and 34 points in math, observers are planning for a slight uptick, as schools have grown more familiar with the Common Core standards and the new tests. But there are still plenty of important questions to ask as the annual release approaches.
August 27, 2013
City officials hit local libraries to help parents understand scores
PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoySamita Rahaman, an M.S. 101 eighth grader, told a city official why she hadn't been able to access her test scores. Carolina Martinez was shocked when she logged on to the city's student data system on Monday to see her daughter's fifth-grade state test scores. Sitting at a computer station at the Parkchester Library in the Bronx, with a Department of Education staff member at her side, Martinez said she saw that her daughter, Stephanie Bravo, had gotten 1's in math and reading — the lowest scores possible. The bad news came as a surprise because Stephanie had gotten much higher scores, 3's and 4's, as a fourth-grader at P.S. 106 in 2012, Martinez said, and her teacher last year said Stephanie was doing well. Leaving the library, Martinez said she didn't understand why Stephanie's scores had fallen so far. She said she hadn't heard that the state had adopted new standards, known as the Common Core, to propel students toward college readiness. That wasn't the outcome that department officials hoped for when they fanned out to libraries across the five boroughs this week for "Log On and Learn" events aimed at helping parents access and interpret their children's scores.
August 9, 2013
2013's test score takeaways, starting with what didn't change
The new tests did nothing to displace old inequities, and charter school performance ranged just as widely as other schools' performance.
August 7, 2013
At test score presentations, NYC celebrates, state stays sober
It was a tale of two press conferences. Using words like "distressing" and "disheartening," state education leaders struck a sober tone this morning at their Midtown offices to discuss this year's test scores. But at his press event a couple hours later, Mayor Bloomberg had a different take, identifying what he said was "very good news" inside the city's lower scores. The scores, the first to reflect students' performance on tests aligned to new learning standards, were far lower than in the past and suggest that less than a third of students across the state are performing at grade level. Statewide, the drops were sharpest for students who historically have struggled in school. Across the state, fewer than one in five black and Latino children are on track to graduate from high school prepared to take college courses, according to the new scores, officials said. "Perhaps the most disheartening piece of today is the persistence of the achievement gap," New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said in her opening remarks. The racial disparities in reading test scores across all grades, Tisch added, "reveal the really daunting, daunting challenge."
August 7, 2013
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.
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.
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