Students in grades three through eight across the state improved proficiency rates on statewide English and math assessments, but the percentage of students who refused to participate in the tests ticked up slightly.
Across the Capital Region and state, students saw greater gains on the English Language Arts tests than the math exams, with the statewide proficiency average climbing to 37.9 percent from 31.3 percent last year. Math proficiency rose from 38.1 percent in 2015 to 39.1 percent this year.
Black and Hispanic students also made greater gains than their white peers on the state tests, slightly closing the still persistent “achievement gap” between white and minority students.
In Schenectady city schools, 18 percent of students scored proficient on the ELA assessments, up from 13 percent last year. But math proficiency across the district stayed flat at 14 percent of students. In ELA, students in every grade saw at least slight improvements, a positive sign that the district’s focus there in recent years has paid off, Superintendent Larry Spring said.
The gains still fall short of the district’s stated goal of improving proficiency by 8 percentage points — a goal Spring calls “extraordinarily ambitious” and “really aggressive.”
“Better than 4 percent growth is good,” he said Friday evening after just a few hours with the district’s results. “It’s incremental growth that shows systemic progress, especially when we see it across the board, but it’s got to get faster.”
(State officials warned that because of changes to this year’s tests the results could not be compared as “apples to apples” with last year’s results.)
In district-wide averages, eighth graders had the most disparate performance results in the two subjects; 21 percent of eighth graders scored proficient on the ELA tests, but just 7 percent of students scored proficient in math. Third and fourth graders scored more consistently in the two subjects, with about 20 percent of students proficient in either area.
The district’s two schools defined by the state as “struggling” — Hamilton and Lincoln elementary schools — both showed improvement on the state tests. On the ELA tests, for example, Hamilton improved from 12 percent to 18 percent proficiency; Lincoln made smaller gains.
For their purposes, school officials analyze from the district-wide results all the way to how individuals perform on the tests, Spring said. They look for outliers that are performing above or below average and drill down to identify things that are working and should be replicated more broadly and identify areas of deficiency. Schools set new goals and targets for improvement based on how they performed on last year’s tests.
Spring said Schenectady’s proficiency improvements should continue to accelerate in the coming years. And the district’s test scores still fall well below the state average and many districts across the region.
“We are adding supports to staff and to curriculum and to training,” he said. “We should definitely see this continue, and we need to.”
Districts in the Capital Region experienced varying levels of improvement and, in some cases, declined in proficiency on the tests compared to last year. Schalmont schools, for example, dropped their ELA proficiency from 36 percent last year to 33 percent this year, while Scotia-Glenville schools improved their ELA proficiency from 33 percent last year to 42 percent this year.
While a handful of districts in the region experienced proficiency drops in math scores, very few had drops in ELA scores.
The state Education Department released the assessment results and test refusal figures shortly after 3 p.m. on Friday, with district reports going out sometime earlier in the day.
On a conference call with reporters after the results were released Friday, state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia echoed the argument that she has made throughout the year: that she and other state officials have listened and responded to parent and educator concerns around academic standards and assessments.
The spring test contained fewer questions than last year and was untimed, so students could continue to answer questions as long as they were working productively.
“Things needed to be changed, and we have done just that,” Elia said. “The process is not complete; it will be a multi-year process to make the necessary changes we know are coming relative to standards, assessments and curriculum.”
For the first time this year, the state tracked the number of students who refused the tests — 21 percent. Last year, 20 percent of students didn’t participate, the figure widely cited as last year’s refusal number. Roughly half of students who refused the test in 2015 also refused it this year, and students who refused the test were “much more likely” to have not scored a proficient mark if they took the test last year.
Refusal rates in the Capital Region dropped this year, but big increases in test refusals in Long Island boosted the statewide figures.
Elia alluded to organized efforts to convince parents to refuse the tests for their kids this year — a movement largely motivated by resistance to the state’s Common Core standards and a feeling that students are over-tested.
“We have no statewide measure of knowledge and skills for those who refused to take tests,” Elia said. “The effort to have more people not take the test (in Long Island) was apparently successful.”