Written by Rich Forestano Friday, 16 August 2013 00:00
New York State test scores in third- through eighth-grade plummeted on Long Island by 40 percent in the new roll-out of the English and math “common core” exam. While the Mineola School District landed in the middle of the pack across the state, district reps feel the state has a long way to go in assessing student growth.
Forty-six states have implemented the common core in an effort to move education toward one unified curriculum. This idea has been combed through during Mineola board meetings over the past two years.
District Superintendent Michael Nagler said the end game is to determine whether this new exam tests the standards correctly. Under the new exam, students are graded from one to four, with a ‘one’ indicating a student is not proficient, and a ‘four’ indicating performance beyond proficiency.
“All of it requires a very fine alignment,” he said at an Aug. 8 meeting, “that we’re teaching the correct standards, children are demonstrating proficiency in those standards and the test is actually testing those standards.”
Planning and implementation both had to be accomplished in a single year, hence, to Nagler, the disappointing results were not unexpected.
“You should not do that [planning, teaching, checking and testing] all in one year,” Nagler said. “That’s why we [in Mineola] do so well on the Regents exam. We have 120-plus years to study.”
When State Education Commissioner John B. King reaffirmed the state’s position on common core assessments at a superintendent summit last year, he mentioned scores might drop compared to the prior tests.
“We’re basically starting over,” Nagler explained. “They need to establish a new benchmark.”
The exam has more than riding on it than student scores. The results leave all teachers in the same spot they were last year when it comes to the Annual Professional
Performance Review plan (APPR), which evaluates teachers and principals. In APPR, standardized test scores comprise 20 percent of an educator’s “grade.” But because in New
York State teachers are ranked against each other, any drop due to the changed tests will be equal across the board.
Three years ago, Mineola adopted The Northwest Evaluation Assessment (NWEA) to measure student growth, which the district feels is a better evaluation tool than the common core. Nagler said the former is a “growth model” while common core is “aspiring to become a growth model.”
NWEA offers a range of educational assessments, along with tools for teacher professional development. Twelve districts on Long Island utilize the system, according to Nagler.
The biggest drop-off from Regents exams to common tests was in eighth-grade math, where Nagler estimated that 92 percent passed the Regents last year, while just 25 percent passed the new test this year: “A bunch of the content that was tested in the eighth-grade exam, the children weren’t prepared for it.”
At the Aug. 8 meeting, the district showed the NWEA results side-by-side with the common core results, emphasizing the strength of the NWEA numbers. Averaging across all the tested grades, English students were 70 percent proficient, according to NWEA results. The common core test of English showed student proficiency at 39.8 percent. In math, NWEA results indicated students were 84.1 percent proficient, while state grades came in at just 43.7 percent.
“The state is trying to establish a baseline,” said Nagler. “What NWEA has [that] the state doesn’t, is it gives a fall assessment and that’s the benchmark. The state is only testing once a year.”
District parent Aileen Scott questioned the effectiveness of NWEA.
“We seem to be putting a lot of emphasis on the NWEA score,” she said. “Whether we like the state tests or not, they’re here and we have to take them. What is the NWEA going to give me information-wise for my child?”
While every test has issues, Nagler isn’t about to abandon NWEA yet.
“None of these [exams] are perfect, but right now, I’d put my eggs in the NWEA basket before I would the state,” Nagler said.
Board Vice President Christine Napolitano has doubts about the new exam series, which is set to debut an algebra test for junior and high school students in 2015. “We need to take a look at where this is going,” she said. “It really does give you one big headache to think about it.”