School districts throughout the Capital Region saw standardized test scores in reading and math decline sharply this year for students in grades 3-8, a result state officials attributed to more rigorous academic standards and a more difficult curriculum.
The plunge was observed in school districts of all types — suburban, rural and urban.
Just 31.1 percent of New York students passed the state’s English Language Arts exam, while 31 percent passed the math exam, according to the state Education Department. Last year, 55 percent of students passed the ELA exam, while 65 percent passed the math exam.
Math and ELA scores for each grade by county are available on the Capital Region Scene blog.
A searchable database of scores by district is available HERE.
Click HERE to try your hand on some of the third-grade math questions.
State Education Commissioner John King cautioned against comparing this year’s test results to last year’s, however, noting that the 2013 exams were harder and that the drop in scores was expected.
In the Schenectady City School District, just 14.4 percent of the district’s eighth-graders were deemed proficient in reading and 5.7 percent of eighth-graders deemed proficient in math. Last year, nearly one-quarter of the district’s eighth-graders passed the reading test, while about 28.4 percent of eighth-graders passed the math test.
But even higher-performing districts, such as the Niskayuna Central School District, saw a greater percentage of students struggle on this year’s tests. About 60 percent of Niskayuna’s eighth-graders passed the ELA exam, while 51 percent passed the math test. Last year, about 76 percent of Niskayuna eighth-graders passed the reading test, while about 86.2 percent passed the math exam.
The state exams assess proficiency in reading and math, ranking students on a scale of 1 to 4. In order to pass, students must perform at level 3 or 4; those classified as level 4 have excelled. Students who perform at level 2 are considered below proficient, and students at level 1 are considered “well below proficient,” according to the state.
Local superintendents said they were not surprised by the drop in scores, and the results would help determine the areas where students need assistance.
Schenectady Superintendent Laurence Spring said his district plans to “dig into the [test] data” and use it to figure out how to better teach students what they need to know to meet the state’s academic standards.
The exam results reveal “a larger percentage of our kids are not where we expect them to be,” he said. “Do we need to improve? Yes. Did we know that before? Yes.”
The Schenectady school district has a high percentage of students living in poverty, which presents challenges, Spring said.
“We can’t afford to have mediocre lessons,” he said. “Our lessons have to be outstanding.”
In the Greater Amsterdam School District, just 16.6 percent of the eighth-graders were considered proficient at reading, while just 5.8 percent were proficient at math.
“Now that the tests have changed, you’re going to see a dip in scores,” said Amsterdam Superintendent Thomas Perillo, noting the district also has a high number of students in poverty. “Ultimately, [the test] will strengthen the instructional program and what we’re doing in Amsterdam.”
The state exams, taken last spring, are the first to measure Common Core standards adopted by the state Board of Regents. Common Core is a more rigorous set of academic standards that aim to better prepare students for further schooling or the workforce. Education Commissioner King said the Common Core standards more accurately reflect students’ progress toward college and career readiness, and this year’s exam results do not reflect a decrease in performance for schools or students.
Spring and others noted districts did not have a full year to teach the Common Core curriculum, as the state is still in the process of developing final guidelines. He said this year’s state exams are a useful tool for monitoring how students are doing, but it would be a mistake to evaluate schools based on the results.
In the Scotia-Glenville Central School District, 28.3 percent of the district’s eighth-graders passed the reading test, while 24.8 percent of the district’s eighth-graders passed the math test. On the district’s website, Superintendent Susan Swartz said the district was not pleased with its results, nor surprised by them.
“The more rigorous standards that were part of these tests are still working their way into the curriculum as students and teachers begin to better understand the Common Core standards,” Swartz said. “We expect that these results will give us a better opportunity to further target our efforts toward helping children in the future.”
In the Gloversville Enlarged School District, just 19.4 percent of eighth-graders passed the reading test, while 11.6 percent of eighth-graders passed the math test.
In a statement, Gloversville Superintendent Michael Vanyo said the drop in test scores was expected and the 2012-13 test scores can’t be compared to the test scores of years past “because the standards have changed so significantly. But these test scores can, and will, be used as a baseline as we continue working to improve.”
“As in years past, these test scores will not be factored into students’ grades,” Vanyo said. “They will still be one of many factors considered when teachers and principals determine whether a student needs extra help in math or ELA.”
The first group of students required to pass Common Core-aligned Regents exams for high school graduation will be the class of 2017.
The test results also revealed a racial gap: Only 16.1 percent of black students and 17 percent of Hispanic students met or exceeded the proficiency standard.
In a statement, Timothy Kremer, executive director of the New York State School Boards Association, said the “test results released today create a baseline measure of student learning under the Common Core standards. It is important to recognize that student achievement did not go down; instead, standards went up.”
New York State United Teachers President Richard Iannuzzi issued a similar statement.
“Parents, students and educators worked very hard this past school year, facing numerous setbacks and challenges beyond their control as New York state rapidly introduced new tests and Common Core state standards,” Iannuzzi said. “Despite their efforts, the scores show a significant drop from past years. The results will serve as a baseline to inform instruction going forward, while serving as a reminder that standardized testing has limitations and that results must be used thoughtfully, judiciously and in context for students and teachers.”