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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.
July 18, 2012
For some charters, 2012 reading test gains began with a struggle
Two years ago, just one in three students at Achievement First Bushwick were rated "proficient" on the state's reading tests. It wasn't exactly the kind of result promised from a high-performing charter school in a "no excuses" network. But the school has nearly doubled that rate in the two years since, according to state test scores released Tuesday. On the 2012 English language arts test, nearly 60 percent of students at the school were rated proficient, compared to 47 percent of students citywide. Bushwick's gains on the reading tests were among the largest made in the charter sector, which improved as a whole by seven percentage points, from 44.5 percent to 51.5 percent. The improvement — from matching the citywide average to scoring well above it — has provided fodder for charter school advocates and the Bloomberg administration to push back against critics who oppose the expansion of charter schools across the state. "Policy makers and legislators should take note" of the gains, said Bill Phillips, president of the New York Charter Schools Association."It’s not only a tougher measure than the host district comparison, it suggests that districts across the state should consider charters as another tool to better educate children." "We can't possibly handle the demand from parents for the charter schools," Mayor Bloomberg said during a press conference Tuesday. "They're just off the charts." Several charter operators announced their schools' test scores in celebratory press releases Tuesday. Deborah Kenny touted the eighth-grade math and reading scores at her schools, the Harlem Village Academies. The Success Academy network announced a 7-point gain in reading proficiency across its four schools with testing grades, more than twice the citywide improvement rate. And Democracy Prep said the low-performing charter school it took over last year had posted the largest reading proficiency gains of any school in the state, with third-grade reading proficiency hurtling from 28 percent in 2011 to 63 percent this year. The charter school sector wasn't nearly as enthusiastic to promote its gains two years ago, when reading scores slumped. Struggles to boost literacy were not unique to Achievement First Bushwick.
July 17, 2012
Bloomberg credits boosts in test results to new school initiatives
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, and Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky walked reporters through a powerpoint presentation on the city's latest test score results. This afternoon, Mayor Michael Bloomberg enjoyed what could be his last opportunity to point to clear gains on city test data. The state is overhauling its testing program next year, and year-to-year comparisons favored by Bloomberg's test analysts will soon become futile. Until then, city officials are championing the small gains almost every group of students made on this year's state tests, calling the scores a sign that some fledgling school initiatives are already working. Breaking the test results down by race, grade level and students with disabilities, each group saw gains of one to four percentage points for the numbers of students scoring proficient on the literacy and math exams. But students of color are still performing well below their white peers, and the number of English Language Learners scoring proficient in literacy actually dropped by 1.8 percentage points. "There is still a gap, and it is unacceptable, inexcusable and it is our responsibility to rectify it," Bloomberg told reporters this afternoon. He speculated that the ELL scores dropped because the city has begun declassifying greater numbers of ELL students who have become proficient in English.
July 17, 2012
Test results show "incremental" gains for both city and state
An early look at this year's state test scores shows that the percentage of students rated "proficient" in reading and math inched upward in New York City and across the state. In a press release announcing the scores today, state officials called the gains "incremental" but warned that scores still have a long way to go before they show that all students are on a path toward being prepared for college. According to the data released today, 46.9 percent of city students tested in grades 3-8 met the state's proficiency standard on the English language arts exam, compared with 44 percent last year. The proportion of students rated proficient in math increased to 60 percent from 57.3 percent a year ago. City students still lagged behind the state as a whole, where 55 percent of students scored proficient in reading and 65 percent scored proficient in math. But the city's scores increased by a wider margin than the state's. Across the state, reading proficiency increased by 2.3 points and math proficiency rose by 1.5 points. New York City also did better than several of the other large urban districts that it is often compared to. Scores increased in Yonkers and Syracuse, but they fell in Rochester and Buffalo. “The progress we see this year doesn’t give us a reason to rest – it gives us a reason to strive for even greater gains," Mayor Bloomberg said in a statement. "There’s still much more work to do, but there’s no question our students are headed in the right direction.”
July 17, 2012
Five things to look for in this year's state test scores, out today
When state test scores are released in about half an hour, it will happen solely by press release. For the second year in a row, state education officials are not holding a press conference to announce the year's results. Nor does the city appear to be planning to tout its scores. Last year, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Dennis Walcott held a press conference to highlight the fact that city students' scores, while low, had increased more than those of students in the rest of the state. But there's nothing on Bloomberg's or Walcott's public schedule for today about the scores, and the Department of Education hasn't informed reporters about any surprise additions. Quiet from the city and state usually does not bode well for increases in test scores, an annual announcement until the state raised proficiency standards in 2010 and scores across the state dropped precipitously. It's also unusual that schools are not getting their scores before the state releases them to the public. But rather than read the tea leaves, we've prepared a crib sheet for the news that will come later today. Here are five things we'll be looking at when the scores come out: What they say about students' stamina. Next year, state test questions will be tied to new learning standards, known as the Common Core, and so the questions themselves are likely to be more challenging. But this year's tests changed mostly in length, with students in elementary and middle school sitting for twice as long as they did last year. Teachers and parents worried about students' ability to retain focus for so long, and some teachers also reported that students were thrown by questions that covered unfamiliar content or took an unfamiliar format — likely ungraded questions that the state will use as it toughens tests next year. The scores that come out today could confirm — or refute — the teachers' and parents' fears.
May 25, 2012
Principal evaluation results stabilized with test scores last year
As test scores stabilized last year, so did principals' evaluations. Two years ago, the state made it harder for students to score proficient on state exams. Scores dropped — and so did principals' ratings, because the ratings are based almost entirely on student test scores. Last year's test scores were more consistent with the previous year's results. Almost 90 percent of schools received the same grade on their city progress report as they had the year before, or rose or fell by just one letter grade. Because of the way the city calculates principals' performance ratings, the stable test scores meant that most principals' annual ratings could only improve. As a result, only about 1 percent of principals — 18 out of 1,485 — got the lowest rating on the city's five-point scale in 2010-2011. More than 25 percent landed in the highest category, "substantially meets expectations." Of the lowest-scoring principals, only five remained in their position this year.
May 22, 2012
With field tests approaching, parents are reprising protests
A group of parents and teachers are once again preparing to opt their children out of state tests, this time when their schools will administer “field” exams in over a thousand elementary and middle schools across the city next month. Field testing allows test makers to gauge the value of future test questions. Pearson, the company that currently makes New York's state tests, is preparing a slew of new questions that are aligned with new learning standards known as the Common Core. This spring's field tests focus on science, math, or reading, depending on the grade level. Students in selected schools already took the science test in mid-May, which was for grades 4 and 8. The math and reading tests are scheduled for the first week of June. The parents and teachers, who are part of the Change the Stakes coalition, are calling on parents to protest the testing, which will be administered on behalf of Pearson Education, the test publisher that famously drew criticism for the “pineapple” test questions on the state’s eighth-grade English exam in April. “This is just research for the company,” said Tony Kelso, whose third-grader is supposed to take the reading field test at Amistad Dual Language School in Inwood. Kelso added that he doubted Pearson would get useful information from the tests. “My understanding is that the tests aren’t even reliable. The students know they won’t count so they don’t take them seriously,” he said.
March 26, 2012
AJC analysis: Suspicious scores found widely, including in NYC
An analysis of nearly 15,000 districts' test scores turned up suspicious patterns that suggested that some cheating might be taking place in New York City schools. The analysis was conducted by a team of reporters and researchers at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the newspaper that covered last year's revelations about a far-ranging cheating scandal in Atlanta's schools. The team looked at changes in students' test scores from year to year, reasoning that large increases or decreases in groups of students' test scores would be unlikely without an unusual intervention such as cheating. The analysis does not identify instances of cheating, only places and times when cheating is considered more likely to have occurred. Most of New York's 32 school districts fell well within the normal range, with around 5 percent of classes showing unusually large score climbs or falls. But in a few places, the analysis detected swings in more than 10 percent of classes, a level that experts told the AJC team was highly improbable under normal circumstances. In Brooklyn's District 16, for example, 7.95 to 12.82 percent of classes between 2009 and 2011 showed suspicious test score swings. Between 2008 and 2011, the percentage of classes flagged in Manhattan's District 2, which includes many middle-class students, ranged from 7.41 to 12.5 — significantly higher than in neighboring districts.
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