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School Colonie Central School District News

State Education Department/Board of Regents Raise Bar For Student Achievement; Some Test Scores Decline

Scores released in July on this year’s New York State 3-8 English and math exams showed a sharp decline in proficiency from recent years statewide — not because student performance decreased but because the state has significantly changed its standards of proficiency.

State officials recently announced that they were increasing the scoring targets (or “cut scores”) on the exams after research showed that a large percentage of New York’s students were not adequately prepared for college. This announcement came months after the exams were completed this past spring.

However, South Colonie Superintendent Jonathan Buhner said that students aren’t learning less than they did in previous years, the bar has simply been raised once more. He said the district (and every district across the state) was expecting to see a drop in the passing rate because of the higher standards set by the state. For a complete list of South Colonie’s scores on tests administered in May 2010 for grades 3 through 8 math and English Language Arts, click here (pdf). For the New York State Council of School Superintendent's reaction to the new scoring, click here.

Under the state’s testing system, scores on these exams are used to classify students into one of four performance levels. Students at Level 1 are not meeting learning standards; those at Level 2 are meeting the basic standard; pupils at Level 3 are meeting the proficiency standard and those at Level 4 are exceeding the proficiency standard.

Under current regulations, students who score at Level 2 or below are entitled to receive Academic Intervention Services (AIS). Yet, because the Board of Regents anticipated such a shift statewide and was concerned about the costs it would carry, it has amended AIS requirements for the coming year to give districts some flexibility.

Part of a larger trend to raise student achievement

SED’s change in the cut scores for the grades 3-8 Mathematics and English Language Arts assessments are just one part of a larger effort in New York to raise student achievement. Education Commissioner David Steiner and his colleagues have been traveling around the state over the last few weeks to not only forewarn of an expected drop-off in test scores, but also to share details on the state’s new push toward tests that are less predictable and more demanding. In a report released by the Board of Regents in July 2010 entitled: "A New Standard for Proficiency: College Readiness," (pdf) the Regents used a variety of academic performance statistics to justify this change, saying, "The Regents raised (academic) standards a decade ago. Now the Regents are embarking on a new era of reform to improve student achievement and better prepare graduates for college."

In a press release on the SED Web site, SED Senior Deputy Commissioner John King said, “The data shows that schools responded to the assignment they were given—they worked hard to help students achieve standards as measured by the state tests that were being given at the time. And more students did, in fact, pass those tests. The problem is that those exams didn’t sufficiently test students’ abilities—the bar was set too low. But we’re changing that now. It’s time to end the annual debate over whether our tests have become easier and to put to rest questions about what it means to achieve proficiency in New York.”

In the same press release, Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch added, “For the past several years, we have seen more and more students scoring ‘proficient’ or better on our state tests. At the same time, however, their performance on the NAEP exam— the gold standard in testing— has remained essentially flat. We haven’t been testing the right things in the right ways. ‘Proficiency’ on our exams has to mean something real; no good purpose is served when we say that a child is proficient when that child is not. So we’re improving our assessments by raising cut scores, making the exams less predictable, testing more areas, and making the tests longer. But more rigorous exams are only one piece of the Regents broader reform vision— a vision that includes a more challenging curriculum, better training for teachers and principals, and a world-class data system. In short, we are lifting the bar to ensure that New York remains at the very forefront of the national effort to raise standards.”

For more information, go to the SED Web site by click here.