New York only state to see drop in fourth grade math scores

New York was the only state to see a decline in its math score for fourth graders in a national asse

New York was the only state to see a decline in its math score for fourth graders in a national assessment of public schools, which shows mostly stagnant academic progress over the last two years.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, a widely cited testing program, found New York’s fourth graders who took the math test in the spring had a lower average score than the national average, and lower than 30 other states. The 2011 New York score was lower than the 2009 score, but still higher than the 1992 score, the earliest comparison included in today’s report.

New York State Education Commissioner John B. King called the state’s performance in both fourth and eighth grade national tests “disappointing and unacceptable.” He said the national test scores show the state’s students are “not where they should be.”

Nationally in 2011, 40 percent of fourth-graders scored above the proficiency level, compared with 38 percent in 2009. In New York, the numbers went in the other direction: 36 percent were proficient in 2011, a drop from 40 percent in 2009.

New York’s eighth grade math score was also lower than the national average, without improvement since 2009 and lower than 29 states.

New York’s move to common learning standards statewide will help improve instruction and scores in standardized test that measure student performance, King said. In decades past, local school district administrations, school boards and teachers had greater control over curriculum.

New York’s eighth graders were around the national average for reading and showed no significant change from 2009. Fourth-graders scored higher than the national average in reading, but not much different than in 2009.

One statewide group called the results lackluster.

“New York’s results show that despite all of the talk of raising academic standards and promises of reform, we still haven’t seen significant improvements in reading and math,” said B. Jason Brooks, director of research at the independent Foundation for Education Reform and Accountability.

In the past, New York has seen drops in student performance when local curriculums fell out of line with state standards, putting students in those schools at a disadvantage in testing.

New York schools showed improvements in closing the achievement gap between white students and racial minorities and between wealthier districts and poorer districts:

— Black students narrowed the gap in eighth grade math compared to 1990 and in fourth grade math since 1992.

— Hispanic students narrowed the gap in fourth grade math and reading since 1992.

— Students receiving free or reduced cost lunches at school — a reflection of relative wealth — narrowed the gap in fourth grade math and reading since the mid-1990s.

“With elementary students doing worse in reading, there is a significant threat of New York getting left behind the rest of the nation,” Brooks said. “We need to immediately end the status quo and dramatically overhaul public education in this state.”

Among the overhauls his and other reform groups have recommended are school vouchers that would provide parents the choice of public and private schools and create competition to force traditional public schools to improve. The group also advocates more charter schools, publicly funded schools operated by private enterprises that are freer to innovate and compete with traditional public schools.

The state Education Department and the Board of Regents that sets policy say they have already started acting to do just that.

New York has signed on to adopt “common core standards,” which would set statewide benchmarks of learning in all subjects, a national effort encouraged in part by the Obama administration’s competition that tied federal funding to reform efforts. Common core standards were long resisted in states like New York with a long history of local policy making and politically powerful teachers unions. This year, however, unions suffered a blow when the Obama administration and the Cuomo administration pushed through accountability measures and evaluation standards for teachers and administrators that can include student performance in tests.

Still, the move in New York will more fully align what students are taught with what the state sets as its academic goals, which should result in better performance in tests used to measure if those standards are being met.

The common core, however, isn’t the first try at improving performance in schools. A Regents action plan dating to the mid-1990s was designed to raise academic standards, require more state Regents exams for graduation, and to better prepare students for college. After several years of steady gains, Tuesday’s NAEP results seem to indicate the state’s academic performance is stagnating or improving too slowly.

“Based on the current academic performance trends, at-risk students aren’t likely to catch up to their peers for decades,” Brook said. “We can’t afford to lose another generation of children.”

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