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October 10, 2013

State Regents agree to give schools test score leeway

By Mark Boshnack The Daily Star
Cooperstown Crier

---- — The state Board of Regents has decided to give school districts greater leeway in deciding who needs remedial services in light of recent state test scores.

Area superintendents said Wednesday they welcomed the flexibility, but a parent interviewed on the subject would have preferred to see standards maintained.

In previous standardized tests for students in grades 3-8, anyone who scored below proficiency (1 or 2) had to be provided with academic intervention services (AIS). But following the 2012-13 standardized tests, which saw 31.1 percent of students statewide meet or exceed proficiency for English Language Arts and 31 percent meet the standard in math, the Board of Regents has decided to allow flexibility in intervention requirements, according to the New York State School Boards Association.

The Regents approved threshold scores that will vary from exam to exam that will reduce the number of students for whom intervention services are required. The scores in 2011-12 were on average 25 points higher in English and 35 points more in math, statewide.

Area schools tended to follow the sharp drop this year. Tests in 2013 were the first to based on new more challenging curriculum, Common Core — a federal standard adopted by more than 40 states.

Sidney Central School Superintendent Bill Christensen said without the change, about 70 percent of students would have needed AIS, which would have been difficult to achieve. The new rules will lower the total to about 18 to 20 percent, which is where the district would have been under the old tests.

“They had to do something,” or many students wouldn’t be learning any new material, he said. “I support what the state is trying to do” with the new curriculum, but “it was natural to expect problems the first year.”

With Regents test scores showing that high-school reading proficiency is 90 percent and algebra was more than 90 percent, the standardized test scores made little sense, he said.

“The tests shouldn’t punish anyone,” he said.

Julie Miller is a parent of three students in the Sidney district — a third, seventh, and tenth grader. She said she understood the lower scores the first year because teachers may not have realized what the format was. But she felt students should have had a chance to have another year of experience before intervention requirements are reduced.

At Unadilla Valley Central School, Superintendent Robert Mackey said having the flexibility is important. He said his district is still exploring the decisions impact on instruction and students. He didn’t have a full accounting of how many students would be affected but he said nearly 75 percent of students in grades four and five would have otherwise qualified for AIS. That’s the average in many other grades, he said.

With work on the new curriculum, it’s been difficult to provide these services he said, and while the tests are important, the real focus is making sure students graduate on time and are ready for success in college or the job market. That effort runs from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, and with rates of about 90 percent, “our teachers are doing the right thing,” he said.