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New York

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.
New York

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.
New York

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."
New York

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.