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August 15, 2013

Low test scores not jaw dropping

Cooperstown Crier

---- — Test scores for students in third through eighth grade plunged in the first year of new, tougher standardized tests.

Thirty-one percent of New York students were proficient in math and reading on state exams administered last spring, state officials announced last week. That’s down from about 65 percent in math and 55 percent in English on exams given in 2012.

The significant drop was expected after the state Education Department implemented assessments in April based on a new, more challenging curriculum, called the Common Core.

Although it is disappointing, it does not really come as a surprise. Schools and teachers warned that the results would be significantly lower because of the rushed process that didn’t give time for lessons, and the teaching materials weren’t widely distributed early in the 2012-13 school year.

State Education Commissioner John King repeatedly stressed that the new results are a “baseline” for future years and shouldn’t be viewed as a slide in the performance of teachers and students.

“It’s important to emphasize that the changes in scores do not mean that schools have taught less and that students have learned less, but rather reflect this new standard, the Common Core,” King said in a conference call with reporters.

New York is one of 45 states to implement the Common Core standards, part of a national effort pushed by President Obama to increase accountability in schools.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten released the following statement on the New York test results and their implications nationally.

He said: “After months of inoculating warnings that the first results of the Common Core testing would be disappointing, no one should be surprised. These results are the consequence of years of intense fixation on test prep and rote memorization instead of developing the critical-thinking and problem-solving skills our kids need. They are the consequence of simply telling teachers, ‘Here are new standards — just do it,’ without providing the adequate supports and preparation. They are the consequence of putting testing before teaching and learning, and rolling out tests before teachers and students even have the tools, curriculum and material to bring the Common Core into the classroom.”

According to Weingarten, there are reports that teachers and students in New York City may not receive Common Core-aligned curriculum materials before school starts. And a new report from the Center on Education Policy indicates that many states do not have the necessary financial resources, staffing or high-quality materials to adequately prepare teachers to teach to the Common Core.

The test results showed stark differences among demographics. In wealthy districts, 51 percent passed math test compared to 9 percent in large cities.

Also, only 35 percent of students statewide are deemed college ready when they graduate college. And among black students, the college readiness dropped to 13 percent.

The English exams showed that minority students struggled: 16 percent of black students and 18 percent of Hispanic students met or exceeded the proficiency standard. Five percent of students with disabilities met or exceeded the English standards, and 7 percent met the math proficiency level.

Ultimately, setting the bar high will not produce results when the resources needed to meet that bar are not provided. The results should serve as a warning sign for states and districts across the country rushing to make the Common Core about tests and not about ensuring that the necessary shifts in instruction have occurred.

We hope the obsession with testing has not shifted the focus away from actual learning and isn’t forcing schools to teach just to the test. Not every student can show their true potential through test scores and there seems to be a lot riding on them.

Richard Iannuzzi, president of the New York State United Teachers Union, hit the nail on the head when saying standardized testing has limitations and that results must be used thoughtfully, judiciously and in context for students and teachers.

New York State has released draft questions for the third grade Math exam that was given to students in April as part of the Common Core testing. To see how you would do, visit