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Scores Tumble On Standardized Test

Educators assure parents

“new baseline” will pay off

Long Island students in grades three through eight saw their New York State test scores plummet by 40 percent compared to last year, but education administrators are telling parents not to fret because this year doesn’t compare to last year.

The Hicksville School District has a diverse student enrollment of 5,244 students. Superintendent of Hicksville Schools, Maureen Bright told the Hicksville Illustrated News, “Our district enrollment is comprised of 7.9 percent of students who are English Language Learners, receiving mandated services, representing 32 languages as their first language spoken; in addition, we have 31 percent of students who are living at the poverty level and 10.9 percent of students who are identified as students with disabilities.” She added, “We believe that these factors inform our test results and place our student performance in a more meaningful context than a district by district comparison; utilizing data provided by Newsday, it is noted that Hicksville students performed above the Long Island average in 3-8 grades on both assessments with the exception of Grade 4 ELA and Grade 8 Math.”

Instead, the scores create a new benchmark for measuring student performance going forward. This test was the first based on the “common core learning standards,” developed by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices in conjunction with state education officers, and voluntarily adopted by the NYS Board of Regents in 2010.

“The world has changed, the economy has changed, and what our students need to know has changed,” Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch said. “These scores reflect a new baseline and a new beginning.” The first cohort of students required to pass Common Core-aligned Regents exams for high school graduation will be the class of 2017.

Because the common core standards are more rigorous, the drop in scores was not unexpected. Earlier this month, Commissioner King sent a memo to school district superintendents, urging them to use the new scores judiciously when assessing teachers and students.

Bright said, “While the State Education Department has indicated that the Common Core Standards  and corresponding new assessments are designed to better prepare students for college and careers, Commissioner King also advised educators early on this year that student performance on the assessments was predicted to decline significantly. The decrease in state scores comes as a result of new cut scores imposed on student performance and reflect the percentages often reported by a national assessment, the National Assessment of Educational Progress. We believe that the decline is not based upon student performance but reflect that the tests were hastily implemented before the students could be effectively instructed in the new standards and curriculum. It should also be noted that it is impossible to accurately determine student progress or school progress by comparing student performance to the prior year’s test results.

According to Bright, there were 20 students within the Hicksville School District, whose parents “opted out” for the ELA assessment and 17 students whose parents “opted out” for the Math assessment. It was a decision that parents believed was in the best interest of their children.

“These proficiency scores do not reflect a drop in performance, but rather a raising of standards to reflect college and career readiness in the 21st century,” King said. “The results we’ve announced today are not a critique of past efforts; they’re a new starting point on a roadmap to future success.”

The state education department is providing guidance for districts to ensure that students are not negatively impacted by the low scores. “Overall there did not seem to be an increase in the number or behaviors of children based on test anxiety as compared to the prior year,” according to Superintendent Bright. “We believe that this is attributable to the efforts of teachers and parents who explained to the children that they were as best prepared as they could be and that they should do their personal best on the assessments.”

The curriculum in Hicksville Public Schools has been adapted to align with the new Common Core Standards. “Throughout the course of the 2012-13 school year our staff participated in professional development, aligned lessons to the Common Core, utilized new instructional methods for teaching and learning and implemented data driven instruction across the curriculum. We will continue to refine the use of these strategies and techniques in teaching and learning during the 2013-14 school year,” said Bright. “We plan to analyze the student performance data for the 2013 assessments for individual students, grades and schools to develop plans to best meet these individual and specific needs; students who scored at Level 1 and Level II will be given support through Academic Intervention Services or Progress Monitoring, where it is recommend that a student may have a deficiency and will benefit from the support.”

“The Common Core Standards are meaningful in preparing students for college and careers and assisting in the development of critical thinking. The rigor of the Common Core Standards and the new assessments, however, were implemented prematurely without adequate time and consideration given to effective curriculum alignment, teacher preparation for new teaching techniques and new lessons and preparation of students in taking a very different type of assessment with new expectations, new design and longer time frame,” Bright said. “The focus and impact of the testing program and the state response to the statewide student performance of these education reforms did not seem to be on children.”

Christy Hinko and Michael Scro contributed to this article.