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  • Joanne Jacobs

When grades don't match test scores, who do you trust?


New York's graduation rate shot up during the pandemic when Regents exams were on hold, writes Alina Adams on The 74. What will happen when these students try to pass college classes or launch a career?


Her daughter earned straight A’s in her first year of high school in New York City and passed two of the five Regents exams required to earn a diploma. But, in one subject, she only earned a "pass," which requires a 65, not the "mastery" score of 85 required by some city and state universities.

It's not uncommon for New York City students to receive grades that don't match their test scores, writes Adams, who writes for New York School Talk.

Since the turn of this century, tens of thousands of New York City students have passed their classes and gotten promoted while failing their state tests. It was true in 1999. It was true in 2015, when some schools with 92% of students logging A and B grade point averages had not one judged proficient on the state tests. And it was true in 2019, the last year the Regents were administered before they were canceled for two years due to the pandemic.

It happens across the country, wrote Arne Duncan in his 2018 book, How Schools Work: An Inside Account of Failure and Success From One of the Nation’s Longest-Serving Secretaries of Education. He told an anecdote from his time in Chicago about a rising senior on the B honor roll who could read and write a second- or third-grade level. "He didn't know what he didn't know," wrote Duncan. "The big lies are the ones that the system tells to parents about how their kids are learning."

According to a 2016 report from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, only 37 percent of 12th-graders are prepared for college-level math and reading, Adams writes.


Who should parents trust?

Is it the classroom teachers who insist they know the kids best and that their day-to-day observations trump any exam administered once a year? Or a test given to all students in the same grade in order to assess how they compare to one another and to state standards?

Many parents trust teachers' opinions more than test scores, she writes. "They’ve been told that standardized tests don’t matter, that it might even be best to just opt out altogether." But when students get to college, a training program or the workforce, will they be prepared?

Nineteen percent of first-time, full-time college students dropped out of four-year colleges in their first year in 2018-19 (pre-pandemic); the rate was 37 percent for students at two-year colleges.

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