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Local News August 15, 2013  RSS feed

New Tests: Student Scores Plummeting

Ed. Officials: We’re Not To Blame
by Max Jaeger

Under new, tougher state tests, the portion of primary school students rated proficient or better in math and English dropped by half, it was announced last Tuesday, Aug. 7.

Just 29.6 percent of the city’s students are proficient in math, while 26.4 percent made the grade in English, according to the recently released results of state tests students took in April. Those figured plummeted from 2012, when 60 percent and 46 percent of pupils were deemed proficient in math and English respectively.

The states new tests adhere to newly adopted Common Core State Standards—a state-led initiative that seeks to align curricula across participating states and increase education standards to bolster college- and career readiness. Forty-five states have adopted Common Core.

Making the grade in Queens

Overall, Queens schools fared comparatively well on this year’s tests—the borough had higher levels of English and math proficiency than any other in the city, according to data from the DOE.

School Districts 25 and 26, which cover much of northeastern Queens ranked among the top three districts for both math and English.

Students in School Districts 24, 28 and 30—which fall within the Times Newsweekly’s coverage area— performed better than half the city’s school districts and did better than the city average, DOE data shows.

In math, Ddistrict 24 ranked 11th with 34.6 percent of students deemed proficient. The district came in 13th in English at 29 percent proficiency.

District 28 ranked 12th in both math and English at 33.7 percent 30.4 percent proficiency respectively.

Students in District 30 edged out the other two districts with 35.4 percent proficiency in math and 30.7 percent in English.

Some blame DOE

The decline in New York City’s performance over last year’s numbers has sparked a debate over how well the Department of Education is doing its job.

Education advocacy groups charge that the city rushed implementing Common Core and did not prepare students, while city officials have fired back that low numbers are a new benchmark reflecting an increasingly competitive college admissions climate.

“It is important to recognize that student achievement did not go down; instead, standards went up,” said New York State School Board Association Executive Director Timothy Kremer in a statement.

Still, critics say, the DOE rushed to implement Common Core, leaving students, parents and educators little time to adapt to the changes.

Some states have delayed implementing Common Core until 2014- 2015 school year in order to retool curriculum to match higher testing standards.

A results summary issued by the DOE notes scores dropped significantly in several other states that began testing to Common Core standards this year.

Parents and education advocates are concerned the lower scores will harm students’ future.

Several groups have issued statements calling for officials to ignore the scores when determining whether students should be promoted to the next grade.

“They must not close schools or make admissions or promotion decisions based on these results,” said Luz Chacon, former teacher and parent leader at Make the Road New York and the Coalition for Educational Justice, at a rally held in front of the DOE’s headquarters Aug. 7.

A statement from DOE Chancellor Dennis Walcott indicated the tests would not be used for high-stakes decision making.

“We have known for over a year that a higher bar would initially mean lower scores,” said Walcott. “But this change is important, and students, teachers and schools will not be penalized by the transition. With an unprecedented amount of support being provided, I have full confidence that schools will effectively take on this challenge and students will reach this higher bar, as they have many times before.”

More stringent evaluations

In general, the new tests are tougher than the old breed.

This year, students were asked questions that require a more sophisticated understanding of subject material, and fewer questions offered multiple-choice answers.

On English tests, for example, new exams required that students craft written responses with cited evidence from stories they were asked to read rather than answering simple, comprehension questions.

Materials from the DOE say that this year’s lower test scores actually show historical gains when compared with more rigorous, Common Corealigned tests students take. According to the DOE, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests administered in 2003 and 2011 are similar to new NYS Common Core Tests.

DOE data shows that 22 percent of students performed at or above proficiency in a 2003 NAEP test. That number rose to 26.5 percent in 2011, and currently 26.4 percent of students are proficient or better in English based on this year’s NYS Common Core tests. Pupils made similar gains in math, the department noted.

The education divide

Newly released data shows that not all students are testing equally.

The results show discrepancies in performance based on race and socioeconomic factors.

For example, Asian students fared the best with 61.4 percent and 48.1 percent proficiency in English and Math respectively. They edged out whites, who scored 46.8 percent and 50.1 percent in the same categories. Blacks and Hispanics were lower than city averages, with both groups scoring just over 16 percent in English. Test results found that 15.3 percent of black students and 18.6 percent of Hispanic students are proficient or better in math.

Neighborhoods with higher incomes outperformed lower-wage areas.

District 25 and 26 lie in northeastern Queens, which is home to enclaves for the wealthy such as Douglaston and Whitestone.

Districts 2 and 3 also made it into the top five on both math and English scores. The districts comprise Manhattan south of Harlem—excepting the Lower East Side, which is served by District 1.

Scores were the worst in District 7, which is situated in the South Bronx.

About nine percent of students were deemed proficient in English and math based on this year’s round of tests—well below the average and, in some cases, more than 50 points below the high-performing students in Queens and Manhattan.