SED: Incremental Progress In State Exams; Opt-Out Rate Is 20 Percent
About one-fifth of New York students in April did not take state examinations for grades 3 through 8 in English-language arts and math, while the students that did made “incremental” progress overall in their scores, the Department of Education on Wednesday announced.
The results, released earlier this morning, showed 31.3 percent of students had “proficient” scores on the ELA examinations, while 38.1 percent had proficient results on the math tests.
The latest batch of test scores come from state education officials after thousands of students “opted out” of taking the examinations — a movement that was encouraged by the New York State United Teachers union the debate over linking student performance to teacher evaluations became all the more contentious this past legislative session.
State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, who was appointed to lead the department last month, remains a supporter of the controversial Common Core standards, but has sought to build a consensus with teachers and parents on explaining the need to raise standards statewide.
“Teachers across the state are working hard to help students reach the high bar we’ve set for them,” Elia said. “In fact, we’ve increased seven points in math in two years. Thousands more of New York’s students are on track to graduate high school prepared to do more rigorous math. Now is the time for the state and districts to make certain that students move to the next level. It’s clear to me that we must do a better job of supporting our teachers and principals as they continue to shift their practice to the higher learning standards.”
The overall progress in the math and English examinations was modest.
In 2014, 30.6 percent of students were deemed proficient in the ELA examination, which was down from 31.1 percent in 2013. In math, 36.2 percent were proficient last year, with 31.1 percent scoring proficiently in 2013.
Nevertheless, the opt-out movement did show a spike in the number of students not taking the test. In 2014, only about 5 percent did not take the test. This year, the percentage grew to 20 percent, with some school districts reporting opt-out rates as high as 89 percent.
Education department data show the students who did not take the test were predominantly white and come from low-to-medium need school districts. Students not taking the tests were “much less likely to be economically disadvantaged,” according to the department.
As has become the case with education in New York, the reactions to the latest round of tests largely fell on political fault lines.
High Achievement New York, a group that has opposed the effort to have students opt out of tests, said the movement has done more harm than good.
“The newly-released data proves a basic point: the opt-out movement creates an apples-to-oranges comparison and much more important, harms efforts to teach children the critical thinking and reasoning skills the Common Core is based on,” said Steve Sigmund, the group’s executive director. “The misguided movement is based squarely on its own short-term political goals, not the best interests of our kids. But despite these efforts, higher standards and the assessments that measure them are taking root in New York in rising scores, improving graduation rates and most important, teachers and students growing more comfortable with them in the classroom.
For education reform groups, the results showing a majority of students still not being rated “proficient” in math and English as a need to “dramatically improve teacher quality.”
“Today’s test results paint an honest picture of how New York’s students are doing — and unfortunately, our system is failing to educate too many children. We cannot deny the public school crisis these numbers so plainly expose,” said Jenny Sedlis, the executive director of StudentsFirstNY, an education reform group that has backed charter schools and Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s education policies. “When more than two-thirds of students aren’t being taught to read and write on grade level, you have to question who this system is designed to serve. Incremental gains are not going to cut it.”
NYSUT President Karen Magee in a statement called the test results “meaningless” and blasted the examinations themselves.
“It would be a huge mistake to read anything into these test results. Whether they’re up or down, they tell us virtually nothing meaningful about students or their teachers,” Magee said. “Student test scores based on poorly written, developmentally inappropriate Pearson tests, in a year in which record numbers of parents repudiated the state’s standardized testing program by ‘opting out,’ aren’t worth the paper they are printed on.”
Cuomo this session successfully won passage of a new teacher evaluation system that is linked both to test scores of students and obtaining and keeping tenure. The evaluation criteria was approved over the objections of Assembly lawmakers in both parties, but was tied to an overall boost in school aid.
The governor, too, has sought to strengthen charter schools statewide through a lifting of the statewide cap.
Like governors in the recent past, Cuomo has indicated he wants more control over the education bureaucracy in the state, which is currently managed by the Board of Regents, who are in turn appointed in essence by the state Assembly.
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