'Proficient' = 52% graduation rate

Test scores are soaring in New York, reports the Buffalo News. But the scores don’t mean students are doing well, says Education Commissioner David M. Steiner.

Steiner asked a group led by Harvard’s Daniel M. Koretz to determine whether eighth-grade scores correlate to high school Regents exam scores and then to success in college.

The conclusion: Students in New York State are moving through elementary, middle and high school with test scores they believe to be adequate, but once they get to college, they find they are not prepared.

“Proficient” on New York’s test was equivalent to the 45th percentile on national tests in 2006, the study finds. By 2009, students at the 20th percentile on national tests were being labeled proficient in New York.

No wonder scores are up.

Even worse, of all students who test proficient in math and reading in eighth grade, only half graduate from high school, reports the New York Post.

More than 95 percent of those who graduate with the minimum passing score (65) on the Regents math exam end up in remedial math as CUNY freshmen. The study found students who score below 80 have little chance of passing college-level classes.

This is no surprise, writes Core Knowledge’s Robert Pondiscio.

For years, I saw 5th graders come into my Bronx classroom who were ostensibly on grade level yet demonstrated little command of basic arithmetic.

But not everybody wants to take an honest look at how well students are doing, Pondiscio notes.

Buffalo’s school superintendent blasted Steiner and his deputy John King last week for focusing on more rigorous tests. ”I think they’re two people who don’t know what they’re doing,” James A. Williams told the Buffalo News. “A more rigorous test is not going to improve student achievement. It’s not going to improve the graduation rate. I think it’s ridiculous.”

. . . Steiner isn’t talking about testing our way to proficiency. He’s talking about how test scores should be indicative of real-world proficiency.

Pretending that marginal students are “proficient” isn’t going to raise the achievement rate either.

Twice as many New York City students are taking summer school classes this year, the Post reports, because Steiner made this year’s math and reading tests less predictable and wider in scope and raised the passing bar.  That might raise achievement and graduation rates.

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  1. tim-10-ber says:

    Yep — proficient does not mean grade level…just like advanced does not necessarily mean above grade level. This has to stop — education is not nor should it be about making the school look good or the adults look good. It it about giving kids the tools they need to be successful in life…so many government school kids will not get these tools anywhere but at home…

  2. Check out the Consortium on Chicago School Research 2006 report, From High School to the Future, for more on why we need to be concerned about this:

  3. National math test scores continue to be disappointing. This poor trend persists in spite of new texts, standardized tests with attached implied threats, or laptops in the class. At some point, maybe we should admit that math, as it is taught currently and in the recent past, seems irrelevant to a large percentage of grade school kids.

    Why blame a sixth grade student or teacher trapped by meaningless lessons? Teachers are frustrated. Students check out.

    The missing element is reality. Instead of insisting that students learn another sixteen formulae, we need to involve them in tangible life projects. And the task must be interesting.

    A Trip To The Number Yard is a math book focusing on the building of a bungalow. Odd numbered chapters cover the phases of the project: lot layout, foundation, framing, all the way through until the trim out. The even numbered chapters introduce the math needed for the next stage of building and/or reviews the previous lessons.

    This type of project-oriented math engages kids. It is fun. They have a reason to learn the math they may have ignored in the standard lecture format of a class room.

    If we really want kids to learn math and to have the lessons be valuable, we need to change the mode of teaching. Our kids can master the math that most adults need. We can’t continue to have class rooms full of math drudges. Instead, we need to change our tactics and teach math via real life projects.

    Alan Cook
    [email protected]


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  2. […] to view it another way, as Joanne Jacobs did: “‘Proficient’ on New York’s test was equivalent to the 45th percentile on […]