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August 8, 2013

Local educators disappointed in test scores

By Mark Boshnack Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — Area school superintendents said that while a decline in recently released state test scores in English and math is disappointing, it is something all New York schools are experiencing.

The change stems from the implementation of the state’s common core curriculum that will be phased in over the next several years. These were the first tests based on the more rigorous standards, which have been adopted by more than 40 states.

The state Education Department on Wednesday released April 2013 scores for grades 3-8 in math and English Language Arts. The state average for proficiency or above (a score of 2 or 3) on the ELA test was 31.1 percent. The average on math was 31 percent. In 2012 the averages were 55.1 percent in ELA and 64.8 percent in math.

Since these are the first results based on the curriculum, state Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. said in a Wednesday media conference that the scores should not be compared to previous results. The state adopted the curriculum in 2010.

It will more accurately reflect student progress toward college and career readiness than on previous tests. The results do not reflect a decrease in performance for schools or students but create “a new baseline” to measure future achievement, he said.

At Sidney Central School Superintendent Bill Christensen said when compared year-to-year, the 2013 scores of 29.9 percent in math and 26.3 percent in ELA represent a 35-percent drop in scores. But compared to other schools in the area, “we are in the top 5,” which is an improvement over recent history, he said.

The tests are different in style than those previously given in calling for applying knowledge and using high order skills necessary in a real world situation. That is an improvement, he said. While the previous standards may have been too low, it was what the state required. “Now that we have seen the test, staff will be able to work on ways to improve.”

Parents should understand that children will be pushed harder under the new curriculum and continue to support them, he said.

More students are ready for college, than are indicated by the scores, but “if students are better prepared then everyone wins.”

State University College of Technology at Delhi Provost John Nader said that while his school has seen issues of college preparedness that can be traced to the high school curriculum, it is manageable. He hoped this new initiative will be successful.

Students who have done a significant amount of writing in their high school course work, including a meaningful research paper, and have a robust schedule of courses, are generally prepared to write on the college level, he said. The number of students needing remedial writing instruction at SUNY Delhi has seen a slight decline, he said. While many students are not ready to perform at a college level in math, a four hour, three credit course has been helpful in addressing those needs.

Oneonta City School District Superintendent Joseph Yelich said he has not had an opportunity to study the test results. 

“While the scores may be disappointing we are not taking them lightly,” he said. 

Students scored 33 percent in ELA and 25 percent in math, according to an analysis of the state release. A comparison to 2012 scores indicate a decline similar to Sidney’s. It does not indicate a deficiency in teaching, he said, but a different kind of test on a new curriculum.

The administrative team will be strategizing on ways to improve student performance on tests as well as day to day skills. 

“It’s what we do in response that we will be assessed by,” he said.

At Morris Central School, Superintendent Matthew Sheldon said the scores are what he was expecting, but it still is disappointing. Overall, students scored 30 percent on ELA and 25 percent in math. That is a decline of 25-percent and 44-percent, while math declined 44-percent.

“We see this as a baseline that can be built on,” he said of the scores. Like other superintendents interviewed, he said the numbers do not appear to be an accurate reflection of student success in college, he said.

One of his concerns was providing necessary remediation to those who scored below proficiency. With all the cutbacks the district has made because of tight budgets, it will be difficult. New York students are at an unfair disadvantage when compared to other states that have not counted their first year results with the new curriculum, he said. But he was confident “scores will improve as teachers and students work with the new assessments.”

To find results for individual schools in New York, grouped by county, search:

http://www.p12.nysed.gov/irs/ela-math/2013/2013ELAandMathemaitcsDistrictandBuildingAggregatesMedia.pdf