It is all so predictable. With New York’s “rigorous,” confusing standardized state tests, most students “failed” to meet a standard set unrealistically out of reach. And the ones who were least likely to “pass” are the students with disabilities and English language learners.
Chancellor of the New York Board of Regents Merryl Tisch said a few weeks ago that if she had a child with special needs, she would “think twice” about letting the child take these tests. She was right. But in the latest press release, she insists that everyone should take the tests because the children will be ignored if they don’t have demonstrable evidence that they failed. Say what?
The state acknowledges that some 20% of students opted out of the test. That is the 200,000 that opt out leaders claimed.
The press release says about the opt out students: Department data show that students who did not take the 2015 Grades 3-8 ELA and Math Tests and did not have a recognized, valid reason for not doing so were more likely to be White, more likely to be from a low or average need district, and slightly more likely to have scored at Levels 1 or 2 in 2014. Students who did not take the test in 2015 and did not have a recognized, valid reason for doing so were lesslikely to be economically disadvantaged and less likely to be an ELL.
A majority of students across the state scored a 1 or 2, so this is not surprising.
Once again, a majority of the students across the state “failed.”
The department released test scores and opt-out data late Wednesday morning. They showed that 31.3 percent of students scored proficient on the ELA tests, and 38.1 percent of students scored proficient on the math tests.
Only 3.9% of current English Language Learners scored at level 3 or above (proficient) in English Language Arts and only 5.7% of students with disabilities.
Please bear in mind that “proficient” is used as a pass-fail mark. Please bear in mind that this is absurd. As defined by the two federally-funded testing consortia, “proficient” on the Common Core tests is aligned with the “proficient” achievement level on the federal NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress). I served on the governing board of NAEP for seven years. “Proficient” doesn’t mean “passing” or “grade level.” It represents a very high level of academic performance. On the NAEP, only one state–Massachusetts–has had as much as 50% of its students reach the proficient level. The national average hovers around 35-40%.
But also bear in mind that the “cut scores” or “passing marks” are not based on science. They are judgments that may be affected by politics. If too many children pass, the cut score may be raised; if too many children fail, the cut score may be lowered. Ultimately, there is no objective way to measure how many students are “college-and-career-ready.” Certainly it cannot be done for students in grades 3-8. There is no evidence behind the claims now made for the Common Core tests, for the cut scores, or for the predictions about which children are ready for college and career in third or fourth grade or any of the other tested grades.
What we can say with certainty is that these standardized tests–like all standardized tests–are unusually difficult for students with disabilities, students who are English Language Learners, and students of color, all of whom scored well below the state’s already abysmal averages.
The State Education Department press release (included in link above) said:
The State Education Department today released the results of the 2015 Grades 3-8 English Language Arts (ELA) and Math Tests. Overall, students statewide have made incremental progress in ELA and math since 2013, the first year assessments aligned to the more rigorous learning standards were administered in grades 3-8. In ELA, the percentage of all test takers in grades 3-8 who scored at the proficient level (Levels 3 and 4) remained consistent in 2015 at 31.3 compared to 30.6 in 2014 and 31.1 in 2013. In math, the percentage of all test takers in grades 3-8 who scored at the proficient level (Levels 3 and 4) increased by seven points in two years to 38.1 in 2015 from 36.2 in 2014 and 31.1 in 2013.
Progress for Black and Hispanic students held steady in 2015 ELA and math. While the percentage of students scoring at the proficient level edged up slightly in both subjects, Black and Hispanic students still face a significant achievement gap. English Language Learners (ELLs) also made small gains in 2015 in ELA and math but still lag behind their non-ELL peers. However, in New York City, Ever ELLs— students who received ELL services in years prior to the 2014-15 school year but not during the 2014-15 school year—had higher levels of ELA and math proficiency than NYC students who never received ELL services (Never ELLs).
In 2015, ELA performance for Black and Hispanic students remained consistent with prior year levels, while math performance improved slightly. In math, 21.3 percent of Black students scored at the proficient level this year, up from 19.8 percent in 2014 and 15.3 percent in 2013—a six point gain in three years. The percentage of Hispanic students achieving proficiency in math also jumped six points in three years to 24.5 percent in 2015, compared to 23.4 percent in 2014 and 18.5 percent in 2013. However, the achievement gap continues to persist statewide for Black and Hispanic students, as well as for ELLs. Current ELLs made small gains in ELA and math, yet they continue to lag behind their non-ELL peers.
In the state’s view, minimal progress means “held steady” or “consistent.”
The department’s leadership made clear that they had no intention of turning back from their course of high-stakes tests that “fail” most of the students in the state:
“This year, there was a significant increase in the number of students refusing the annual assessments,” Chancellor Tisch said. “We must do more to ensure that our parents and teachers understand the value and importance of these tests for our children’s education. Our tests have been nationally recognized for providing the most honest look at how prepared our students are for future success, and we believe annual assessments are essential to ensure all students make educational progress and graduate college and career ready. Without an annual testing program, the progress of our neediest students may be ignored or forgotten, leaving these students to fall further behind. This cannot happen.”
“We must also do a better job of explaining to parents the benefits of higher standards and annual testing,” Commissioner Elia said. “Since I became Commissioner, I’ve made it a priority to establish a dialog with parents so they better understand why we test. Annual assessments provide important information about individual students for parents and classroom teachers and allow us to keep track of how all student groups are doing. This year’s results show our scores are not yet where they need to be, but we will work to ensure continued improvement.”
So, once parents understand, they will feel good about their children’s failure. Maybe in thirty or forty years, we will see most children reach “proficient” or the cut scores will be dropped.