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August 10, 2013

N.Y. test scores prove to be a lightning rod

By Mark Boshnack
The Daily Star

---- — The recent release of state test scores on English Language Arts and math tests for students in grades 3-8 brought a flood of comments from organizations with an interest in the process.

This was the first test based on a new curriculum —Common Core — that has been adopted by more than 40 states. The new tests were the cause of a sharp decline in the scores, and many officials said they should serve as a new benchmark instead of comparing the results to previous years.

New York State School Board association executive director Timothy Kremer said: “It’s important to recognize that student achievement did not go down; instead, standards went up. The state realigned exams to more closely mirror the knowledge and skills that students will need to succeed after high school. We can use this year’s results for comparisons in future years.”

While school boards continue to support more rigorous learning standards, “we all must acknowledge that there were implementation issues surrounding the state adoption,” Kremer said. The timeline was accelerated compared to other states, which caused problems because some teachers did not have adequate time to prepare to teach to the curriculum, and the scores reflect that, he said. Also schools began implementing these reforms during a time of budget cuts, he added.

“We are confident scores will improve through collaboration between the state, school districts and educators,” Kremer said. However, the state Education Department must play a significant role in helping schools succeed, he said. That means finding resources for high-quality curriculum and test development, and academic intervention services, as well as providing professional development technical assistance.

New York State Council of School Superintendents executive director Robert J. Reidy said the results reflect a change in state standards this year — not the efforts made by students and teachers working in schools.

The implementation created challenges; some resources that should have gone to teachers a year ago have only recently been made available by the state Education Department, he said. Also, while adapting daily instruction this year to match the Common Core, school leaders were also mandated to develop and implement complex, demanding procedures for teacher and principal evaluations, he said.

In the past, whenever the state has raised standards, schools have risen to the challenge and this will will happen again.

“The Common Core standards represent an unprecedented shift in our expectations for schools and the students they teach. With more time and better resources, schools will strengthen their practices, the tests themselves will be refined, and more and more students will again succeed in meeting the new standards.”

Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, said: “The precipitous drop in student test scores confirms what we have been saying all along: schools are not getting the adequate resources that they need to prepare their students for college and careers. Ultimately, setting the bar high will not produce results when the resources needed to meet that bar are not provided.”

Shortchanging schools and educators only sets them up for failure, he said.

The group is calling for a one-year moratorium on the high-stakes consequences of the latest scores. Schools, principals, and teachers, the group contends, should not be evaluated based on tests that weren’t met with adequate resources.

“The obsession with testing has shifted the focus away from actual learning and has forced schools to teach to the test. Albany needs to wake up and provide the leadership and vision necessary to get schools what they need in order to prepare students not just for a test, but for college and careers,” Easton said.

New York State United Teachers President Richard C. Iannuzzi said: “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. 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..”

He added: “Now, more than ever, the voices of parents and educators must be part of the conversation, and education policies must be based on trust, collaboration and respect. ... This is how New York state can get it right.”

Mark Boshnack is a staff writer for The Daily Star. Contact him at mboshnack@thedailystar.com.