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, 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.