Thursday, August 08, 2013

NYC Test Scores Plumet

STOP THE PRESSES!!! What happened in NY state yesterday with the release of the new, much lower state test scores was an EARTHQUAKE that will have a huge long-term impact, both in NYS and nationally. Whether that impact is positive or negative is open to debate, but I think it will be HUGELY positive in the long run because, as I’ve said many times before, my observation is that big systems are like little children: they will live up (or live down) to whatever expectations you set for them.

When one of the largest and most widely watched states takes the bold and courageous step of reversing a long trend (that nearly every state has engaged in) of dumbing down standards and tests – what I call a Race to the Bottom – and instead implements meaningful standards (and robust tests to back them up), knowing that there will be significant fallout (political and otherwise), THAT’S REALLY, REALLY IMPORTANT!

This took real guts, so huge kudos are in order for Superintendent John King and his predecessor David Steiner, head of the Board of Regents Merryl Tisch, Gov. Cuomo, Mayor Bloomberg, Chancellor Walcott, and former Chancellor Klein.

What NYS did was very simple – and very right: it decided to stop lying – to students, to parents, to taxpayers – about what level students are at vs. where they need to be at to be on track to attend a four-year college. In doing so, it ended the sham and disgrace of telling a large percentage of students (and their parents) that they were on track when they weren’t. I think it’s immoral to tell this lie to young people, who enroll in college – often at enormous personal and financial sacrifice – and then...get blindsided. Only then do they learn that they're NOT ready for college – and instead need 1-2 years of remedial work. And the result for most? They drop out, at enormous cost to them – and our society. As Arne Duncan said:
“Too many school systems lied to children, families and communities. Finally, we are holding ourselves accountable as educators.”
So this was clearly the right thing to do in the long run, but in the short run it is a very rude awakening for the vast majority of students, parents, teachers, principals, and schools in the state. I appreciate how disheartening it is to be told that you are doing well – even if you (rightly) suspected that you were being lied to – and then be told you’re not. But this harsh wake-up call was necessary, so after a period of sober reflection, we all need to recommit to the hard work that lies ahead.

Let me start with a bit of background, then to the facts of the results, and then to the commentary about them.

This chart shows the trends over the past five years for NYS, NYS charter schools, and charter school host districts (the data for every school in the state is posted here):

Focusing on the dark blue dots (for NYS), you can see two huge drops: from 2009 to 2010, and then in the most recent year. The first drop took place under former state super David Steiner, who wrote to me yesterday with this explanation:

Our goal in resetting 3-8 test scores (also in the face of great opposition) in 2010 -- making the tests much tougher to pass than they had been -- was to align them to a trajectory that would prepare students to take community college courses without remediation. While I was Commissioner, we also subsequently adopted the Common Core standards. These standards, and the tests aligned to them, aim higher - at entry into, persistence, and even success in four year colleges. That is why it makes every sense that the pass rates today are lower than those in 2010. 

In other words, the standards through 2009 were a complete joke, so Steiner (and others) changed the cut scores to reflect a level that indicated that students were ready “to take community college courses without remediation” (note that the standards and scale remained the same).

Though raised, this was still a very low bar so this year “the standards, scale, and cut scores [were] changed to measure the Common Core” – namely to be consistent with what a student would need to be able to go to a four-year college without remediation. (Remember this when, below, I rebut Ravitch’s (as usual) total nonsense.)

So what happened? The proficiency rate (percentage of students in the top two categories) plunged – across the state and in every subcategory: every city/district, race, gender, charter, regular school, etc. Statewide, the percentage of students ranked proficient dropped from 55% to 31% in ELA and from 65% to 31% in math, as you can see from the chart above and in these two charts:

So let’s turn to the media coverage. Here’s the NYT:

The number of New York students passing state reading and math exams dropped drastically this year, education officials reported Wednesday, unsettling parents, principals and teachers and posing new challenges to a national effort to toughen academic standards.

In New York City, 26 percent of students in third through eighth grade passed the tests in English, and 30 percent passed in math, according to the New York State Education Department.

The exams were some of the first in the nation to be aligned with a more rigorous set of standards known as the Common Core, which emphasize deep analysis and creative problem-solving over short answers and memorization. Last year, under an easier test, 47 percent of city students passed in English, and 60 percent in math.

City and state officials spent months trying to steel the public for the grim figures.
But when the results were released, many educators responded with shock that their students measured up so poorly against the new yardsticks of achievement.

Continue Reading...

No surprise on Thompson’s pandering response and Quinn’s sensible one:

The politicians vying to succeed Mr. Bloomberg, who leaves office at the end of the year, quickly seized on the results.

William C. Thompson Jr., a Democratic candidate who has been endorsed by the city’s teachers’ union, said the results showed that for years the city had put too much of an emphasis on tests at the expense of deeper learning.

“Let’s be clear: We’ve accomplished nothing,” Mr. Thompson, a former city comptroller, said at a news conference. “Doors of opportunity are closing for families and communities across our city.”

Other candidates were less critical. “We don’t want to confuse test scores going down with stepping away from raising standards,” Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker and a Democratic candidate for mayor, told reporters.

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Here’s Lisa Fleisher of the WSJ:

The results posted by New York state students on tough new exams shined a spotlight Wednesday on what educators have been saying for years: Most students aren't ready for college-level work by the time they graduate.

…As graduation rates rise and more students across the country head to college, the conversation in education circles has moved toward making sure those students are prepared for higher-level work. If they aren't, students can spend precious time in remedial courses that don't count toward a diploma, but still suck up limited federal grant money or loans.
State Education Commissioner John King said government officials had been "reluctant to acknowledge the hard truth"—something they are now trying to address.

"Better to face that challenge in fifth grade than to find when the child arrives at college that the child is required to take remedial courses—high school courses—that they and their parents pay for," he said. "Students are unfortunately leaving our higher ed institutions before they graduate, with debt, without a degree, and then struggling in the economy. That's the reality we're trying to avoid."

Part of that effort, for New York and 44 other states, has been to adopt new math and reading standards known as the Common Core State Standards. The standards don't provide lesson plans, but rather map out what kinds of skills students should be able to master, and by when.

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A bit of good news: NYC fell less than the rest of the state and other big cities, as this article and these two charts show:

The state’s first round of Common Core test scores are out and they are just as low as officials warned.

But there is some good news for New York City: Its scores are close to the state average, and far ahead of those of other large cities.

Statewide, 31.1 percent of students scored proficient or higher in reading, compared to 55.1 percent last year on the non-Common Core aligned tests. In math, 31 percent of students statewide scored proficient, compared to 64.8 percent last year.

As expected, New York City’s scores are lower than they have been, too. But the good news for city students and educators — and, perhaps especially, for Mayor Bloomberg — is that the city’s proficiency rates are not so far off the state’s.

Charter schools did not fare very well overall – they fell just about in line with regular public schools (see first chart above) – with the notable exception of the Success Charter Network (kudos!). Here’s a statement from Bill Phillips, President of the Northeast Charter Schools Network (with a link to reports for every charter school in the state):

State's Latest Testing Snapshot Reveals New Baseline
for All Schools Across the State

Albany, NY (August 7, 2013):  Today the New York State Education Department released scores from the 2013 English language arts and mathematics exams, effectively setting a new bar for school performance.  Charter schools performed as well as the state average in mathematics, but underperformed the state in English language arts.   Charters continue to exceed the host district averages in both subjects, emphasizing their importance to educationally struggling areas.   

Bill Phillips, President of the Northeast Charter Schools Network (formerly the New York Charter Schools Association) said:

"These new baseline scores are bracing.  Despite better relative performance when compared to host districts, the hard reality is most charter schools are challenged by low proficiency rates.  Fortunately, charters are known for being flexible and accountable for performance because we all have a lot of work to do."

Now let’s turn to the outstanding commentary. Here’s Joel Klein:

This week is a watershed moment in the history of public schools in New York City and state. This morning, the state will release the results of the math and English exams administered to students this past spring. While end-of-year testing isn’t new, the knowledge that was tested last spring is. For the first time, students across the state were assessed based on the new, more rigorous Common Core standards.

For years, states around the country dummied-down standards to make it look as if students were more prepared for success after graduation than they actually were. This may have made some politicians look good, but it has been a terrible disservice to our kids.
Raising standards will mean we now have a more true measure of how well our students are learning. In the near term, it will also mean that previously inflated test scores will drop.
While some may confuse lower scores as a negative development, the fact that we’re finally being honest about academic achievement is a very positive sign.
For decades, states and local school districts have been responsible for their own education standards; the quality varied widely. A student deemed highly successful in one state could fail in another. The lack of uniform expectations didn’t do our students any favors. In fact, it doomed many to mediocrity.

Anyone who cares about giving all students a fair chance to succeed must be troubled by a terrible truth: The majority of America’s high school students aren’t graduating with the knowledge and skills they need to compete in the global economy. Only 30 percent are prepared for college and careers, according to the US Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP — also known as the nation’s report card. Worse yet, American students have fallen well behind their peers around the world, an alarming shortfall in a time of global competition.

Continue Reading...

Here’s David Steiner:

Many thousands of 3rd- through 8th-grade students who took Common Core-aligned tests in New York State this year will be told this week that they fall short of where they need to be on the trajectory to this goal.

The vehicle for this message will be lower test scores than these students and their parents have achieved in the past. School-level results will mirror the declines in individual scores, though there will likely be some surprising and useful outcomes. Some schools, for a variety of reasons, will buck the general trend a little, doing even worse than expected (because they were overly focused on teaching to earlier tests) or better. It will be especially interesting to see if our charter school results decline proportionately to other schools, or fare better or even worse – and to understand why.

But the real issues lie elsewhere.

First, for all the anguish and argument you will hear this week, the toughest policy decisions have yet to be taken: only next year will the first of the New York State Regents exams, required for high-school graduation, be aligned to the Common Core standards. When I served as Commissioner, we realized that imposing a college-readiness standard on the Regents exams, as we did – painfully, for the 3rd- through 8th-grade exams – would reduce high-school graduation by 30%. We judged this to be ethically and politically impossible. That is why, instead, we announced, for the first time, the college- and career-ready graduation rate for the state — but only as deeply sobering information.

Here’s TNTP’s Tim Daly:

Now that New York State has announced results from its more rigorous, Common Core-aligned tests in math and reading, the focus has largely been on the precipitous drop in proficiency rates. More pointedly, the focus has been on who can be blamed for the drop.

I doubt I’m the only person who finds this whole exercise disheartening. This is a moment when New York is finally getting something right that has been wrong for quite a long time, and instead of supporting the leaders who made tough calls, we are forced to listen to relentless political attacks claiming a disaster.

...Moments like these matter. The new results hold a great deal of information that can help schools and teachers shape instruction in the new school year. New York now has a more accurate picture of student performance. We have a long way to go. But instead of rushing to the battlements, we should be applauding the state’s work and figuring out how the next iteration can be smarter and more productive.

Continue Reading...

Kudos to the NYT editorial page for endorsing the new tests and standards, with a well-deserved slap at the pandering mayoral candidates:

The new scores were bound to be controversial in New York City thanks to the mayoral race. Some candidates are trying to curry favor with the teachers’ union, which is taking a scorched-earth approach to Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s educational policies.

Some candidates are looking for ways to blame Mr. Bloomberg for the drop in scores, even though the tests are overseen and managed by the state, and even though the city experienced less of a decline in scores than the state as a whole.

In fact, student performance in New York City is far ahead of that of other large urban districts like Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse — where most academic proficiency rates fell into the single digits. The good news is that the test score gap between New York City schools and the state as a whole has narrowed substantially. In math, for example, the proficiency rate in the city’s schools was 29.6 percent, behind the statewide rate of 31 percent.

These scores should be seen as a kind of baseline to evaluate student progress from here on out. Instead of sniping at the outgoing mayor, the candidates who are vying to succeed Mr. Bloomberg need to figure out how to advance the reform effort. That means making sure that teachers are fluent in the instructional methods that help students reach the new learning goals. That, in turn, will require high-quality professional development programs that help teachers master the necessary classroom skills.

Continue Reading...

Yet, reform critics and parents have asked why the state would raise the bar so high that so many students score below proficient?

The purpose is simple: to ground the work of our schools in an honest understanding of how our students are actually doing. For too long, we set the bar based not on academic standards but rather, it seemed, on political calculations.

A high school diploma—or high school proficiency rate—is supposed to be a meaningful indicator that the student who has earned it has mastered content that would prepare her for what lies beyond—at a minimum, for credit-bearing coursework in college or for gainful employment. We know that, in too many places, “proficiency” cut scores and high school diplomas do neither.
Here’s RiShawn Biddle:

Certainly there will be shock that only 36.3 percent of fourth-graders and 27.2 percent of eighth-graders scored at the top two levels on the reading portion of the state tests. But the reality is that those numbers closely align with the performance of fourth- and eighth-graders on NAEP two years ago, when 34 percent of fourth graders and 35 percent of eighth graders scored at Proficient and Advanced levels. If anything, the results (along with the implementation of Common Core reading and math standards undertaken by the Empire State) have shown what most people have already surmised by now: That the state’s proficiency targets had long ago overstated levels of student achievement. It isn’t shocking considering that two out of five students attending the State University of New York’s community colleges have to take some kind of remedial coursework in order to master what they should have learned in elementary and secondary schools.

The results are also showing how poorly districts and other school operators are providing high-quality education to poor and minority children.

…The results are hardly good news on their own by any measure. What is good to know is that New York State has stopped deceiving its families and children about the low quality of education throughout the state.
Lastly (deliberately) is Ravitch’s hypocritical screed, in which she (as usual) makes ad hominem attacks on John King and Merryl Tisch and then accuses them of being “determined to destroy public confidence in public education, to demoralize teachers and principals, and to crush students’ love of learning by making testing the only consequential aspect of their schooling” and that they have decided that “it is time for students to suffer” and that “students and their parents will be devastated.” Lastly, she asserts that “The passing mark on the state tests was politically determined. It has no scientific validity. None whatever.”

My responses:

a) I never thought she could become more hysterical (that’s my polite word for bat-sh*t crazy) – but she’s done it!

b) I never thought she could be even more hypocritical than she’s been in the past – but she’s done it! Let me count the ways.

In March 2009, she was quoted in the NY Daily News praising Merryl Tisch for doing exactly what just happened:

Diane Ravitch praised [Tisch] as an "outspoken advocate" for accuracy on graduation rates, and leaders of the Alliance for Quality Education and the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lauded her insistence on matching increased standards with adequate funding.

A year later in a WSJ op ed, she decried the states’ Race to the Bottom and how ill-prepared entering college students are:

Meanwhile the states responded to NCLB by dumbing down their standards so that they could claim to be making progress. Some states declared that between 80%-90% of their students were proficient, but on the federal test only a third or less were… Colleges continued to complain about the poor preparation of entering students, who not only had meager knowledge of the world but still required remediation in basic skills. This was not my vision of good education.

Finally (and most hypocritically), she praised Steiner in a WSJ article in July 2010 when he raised the bar the first time:

Diane Ravitch, an assistant U.S. education secretary during the first Bush administration and now a frequent critic of reform efforts in New York and across the country, went a step further.
She praised the state's education commissioner for his "courageous, very brave and bold move…”

So let’s be clear: Steiner, King and Tisch do exactly what she’s repeatedly called for – and now she blasts them?! You can NOT make this stuff up!

I was going to write some more, further rebutting her nonsense, but I’m not. I think the commentators above do a great job of it – and her record speaks for itself.

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