NY schools get bad news on proficiency

After years of rising test scores, New York education leaders concluded the state has been defining proficiency down.  It takes a higher score this year for a student to qualify as proficient, which equates to doing grade-level work. This year’s lower pass rates have been a shock to schools, reports the New York Times.

In New York City, the proficiency rate in English fell from 69 percent to 42 percent; math proficiency fell from 82 percent to 54 percent.  Principals have been earning bonuses for raising scores; teacher evaluations are based partially on test scores.  To adjust for the sharp drop in scores, schools will be graded on a curve this year, with 25 percent to receive A’s, 35 percent B’s, 25 percent C’s, 10 percent D’s and 5 percent F’s.

At some schools, the drop was breathtaking. At Public School 85 in the Bronx, known as the Great Expectations School, there was a literal reversal in fortune, with proficiency on the third-grade math test flipping from 81 percent to 18 percent. At the main campus of the Harlem Promise Academy, one of the city’s top-ranked charter schools, proficiency in third-grade math dropped from 100 percent to 56 percent.

. . . The charter school run by the local teachers’ union, the UFT Charter School, showed one of the most severe declines, to 13 percent of eighth graders proficient in math, from 79 percent.

The racial achievement gap widened as many black and Hispanic students, just passing under the old system, now fall below proficient.

Many more third through eighth graders will have to attend summer school in 2011 to be promoted to the next grade.

In schools where children were scoring well above grade level, though, the passing rate did not change much. At Public School 172 in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, for example, last year’s 100 percent on the third-grade math test inched down to 99 percent, and the fourth-grade English passing rate slipped to 96 percent, from 99 percent.

Students answered about the same number of questions correctly this year, but the score required for a passing grade went up.

Top-ranked P.S. 155 will try harder,  the principal, Linda Singer, told the Times. “We are ordering a grammar book ASAP; that was a weakness,” she added. “We are going to push in professional development for teaching that is different for each child.”

In short, the bad news could be good news for students who aren’t working at grade level but could be.

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  1. I expect there will be hellstorm when classes start back up this fall, but this has the potential for being a great opportunity. For years the kids have been told that they are on grade level when they are not even close. As it stands right now, they generally don’t find out until maybe high school, usually college. The thing about hitting a brick wall is that, the longer you wait to hit it, the faster you’re going and the harder you hit.

    Perhaps this will light a fire under some behinds to actually deal with the shoddy curriculum. Unfortunately, however, I’m sure that the people responsible for the curriculum will not want any blame heaped on themselves. As a result, the lower level teachers who generally have minimal math knowledge and also have to deal with an insane amount of documentation and number of programs from the English department, while simultaneously teaching every other subject and dealing with everything else that comes from teaching in a city are left hanging out to dry.

    The education system in this state desperately needs to be hit by a clue-by-four. Maybe they’ll get the message this time…

    …and maybe Lucy will actually hold the ball in place.

  2. What Obi said.

    You can’t oversstate the importance and value of what New York State has done here. For low-income parents with little educational background, the state test is tantamount to a good housekeeping seal of approval. If the state tests say your kids are on grade level you take it on faith (what other choice do you have?). Hundreds of thousands of kids have passed through our state’s schools assuming they were where they needed to be.

    At one level, the fact that the goalposts have been creeping in for years is not a shot (thanks, NCLB and letting states set their own definition of proficiency). Plenty of folks have been saying “The Emperor has no clothes.” But seldom does the emperor say it and announce plans to throw on some clothes. David Steiner, the NYS ed commissioner has demonstrated real leadership and courage here, bless him.

  3. How many other states have done just as NY has done, but haven’t had the courage to acknowledge it?

    I often wonder how much our current economic woes have to do with an under-educated workforce. I think everyone would agree that a nation as a whole benefits from an educated workforce and, conversely, suffers from an uneducated workforce. The question is: have we already reached the point where our underperforming educational system has undermined our national economy?

    Signs point to yes…

  4. I just read something recently about Texas having the same problem; annual testing indicating on-grade-level performance BUT inability to pass the HS-exit exam necessary for graduation. It’s fundamentally dishonest. I think that many of the current HS grads are functioning at an 8th-grade level, at best; particularly in lower-performing schools.

  5. have we already reached the point where our underperforming educational system has undermined our national economy?

    Education is only part of it.  Immigration (both legal and illegal) has imported millions of illiterates who often despise our culture in general.  We can’t upgrade the workforce without doing something about the people entering it from outside the country as well as inside.

  6. 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.

    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.

    Alan Cook
    [email protected]

  7. SuperSub says:

    Alan –
    Or we could teach them in elementary school that it is important to do their best and failure is, well, a bad thing.
    With enough external reinforcement in elementary and early middle school, the desire to do well in school becomes internal later on. No need to spend precious class time making lessons fun.


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