Students in New York state are falling behind their counterparts nationwide in math, according to national test data released Tuesday.
New York was the only state to see its scores decline on exams given by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The state’s average score for fourth-graders was 238 on a scale of 0 to 500 — two points lower than the national average. The score was three points lower than New York’s performance in 2009.
Eighth-graders had an average score of 280 — a three-point drop from 2009 and three points lower than the average nationwide score of 283.
The NAEP tests are given to a sample of students nationwide.
Reading scores for New York students were average. The average score for fourth-graders was 222, which was one point above the nationwide average. The eighth-grade average was 266 — two points above the nationwide average.
State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. called the results “disappointing and unacceptable” and outlined reforms the Board of Regents has adopted, including a new statewide curriculum and more difficult tests that more accurately measure what students need to know.
“The NAEP scores make clear a tough but necessary truth: Our students are not where they should be,” King said in a news release.
New York is part of a group of 24 states that have adopted the Common Core Standards, which set out what students need to know by the time they graduate high school. The states will develop common exams that will be given beginning in 2014.
Local officials were still digesting the news. Schenectady interim Superintendent of Schools John Yagielski said he was surprised by the statewide trends.
“We’ve been seeing in the math area a bit more growth,” he said.
The district has worked to strengthen its math curriculum during the last few years, according to Yagielski. Schenectady had been seeing gains up until 2010, when then-state Education Commissioner David Steiner changed the passing score for the standardized tests. The concern at the time was that the exams were not difficult enough.
That change set back all districts, according to Yagielski.
Schenectady has also launched a program to help struggling readers at early grade levels, according to Yagielski, but that won’t achieve noticeable results until students are older.
“We certainly believe that over time that will lead to bringing up all the English language arts scores,” he said.
Since not all students take this test, school officials say it is difficult to draw conclusions from the results. Only 94 Schenectady students were asked to take the test, Yagielski said.
Students are randomly selected based on the numbers of different types of children that NAEP is seeking. “We have no idea how they themselves did on it. They don’t report back to us,” Yagielski said.
Patrick McGrath, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for the Mohonasen Central School District, agreed it is difficult to analyze the results based on a small sample of students.
“You don’t want to take a gigantic overall national test and say we need to change everything we’re doing,” he said.
That said, the test itself is a pretty good measure of achievement, according to McGrath. “It’s relatively similar over decades now. That helps a lot,” he said.
McGrath said it is a constant challenge to present curriculum in a way that is understandable to all students.
“This is a whole spectrum of kids,” he said. “You’re trying to reach everybody in their different places.”
There was some good news in the report. In mathematics, the gap in the scores between white and black fourth-grade students narrowed and New York was one of four states — along with Georgia, Illinois and Massachusetts — that saw the gap narrow between the scores of low-income and high-income students.
McGrath said the increase in the achievement of minority students in the last few years is a positive trend.
With the use of computer-based tests, McGrath said it is possible to test students and determine exactly where their shortcomings are in their grasp of the material.
McGrath also said the incoming Common Core standards will help set national standards. With everybody using the same curriculum, it will be more cost-effective for educational companies to design teaching tools that all students across the country can use.