Emmanuel Felton and Sarah Butrymowicz write in the Hechinger Report that students in New York have shown little progress in three years of Common Core teaching and testing. Experts warn that three years may be too short a time line to reach a judgment. Nonetheless, the widening achievement gaps are cause for concern. According to the conventional wisdom, the writers say, scores were supposed to rise as teachers and students became accustomed to the new standards. The reality is different.

Three years into the transition to harder tests, scores across the board have remained low and largely stagnant.
Thirty percent of all fifth-graders passed the English exam, for instance – while just 7 percent of special education students did. In math, 43 percent of all fifth-graders were proficient, but only a quarter of black students were….

The past three years of testing have been rough for New York. Complaints began right away in 2013 when the state switched to the new exam and continued when the scores showed proficiency rates had dropped roughly 24 percentage points in English and 34 percentage points in math. In the subsequent two years, criticism grew – over the stakes attached to the exams, the tests themselves and the standards. A robust “opt-out” movement led by disaffected parents and supported in part by teachers resulted in 20 percent of New York students not taking the exams, up from 5 percent the previous year….

And scores have not improved much in the three years. A Hechinger Report analysis found that English scores were essentially stagnant across the state and math scores went up slightly. White and Asian students, however, drove this increase, while the gulf between black and Latino students and their peers has widened.
In 2013, for example, 30 percent of fifth-graders passed the state math exam. This year, when the vast majority of those students were in seventh grade, 35 percent of seventh-graders passed the test. But while white students went from 36 to 46 percent proficiency, black students only increased from 15 to 17 percent and Hispanic students from 18 to 20 percent…

In addition to looking a lot like last year’s results, these scores also match New York’s results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), often called the Nation’s Report Card, which is considered the gold standard for student exams.

But the alignment with NAEP is precisely the problem. The state exams now consider “NAEP Proficient” to be a “passing mark.” This is utterly absurd. NAEP Proficient was never intended to be a passing mark, nor is it “grade level.” NAEP Proficient represents a high level of achievement. No state has seen as many as 50% of its students reach NAEP Proficient except for Massachusetts. As long as the states continue to use tests whose “cut scores” are aligned with NAEP, a majority of students will be considered “failures.” This is not sustainable. Think of the consequences of failing most students year after year.