Parsing the Test Scores
July 28th, 2010
New York State raised the bar on education yesterday, and many city students stumbled on it. But even though the new standards means far fewer city public school kids now qualify as meeting state standards in English language arts and math, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein said at a press conference this afternoon that the city schools under their years of leadership have made enormous progress. If you have any doubts, they said (repeatedly) just ask Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
Following years of charges that the state standardized tests had become too easy, the state education department raised the cutoff score for achieving a level three or four — the two levels that indicate a child meets the standards and can go on to higher levels of work.
The increase made state and city proficiency levels plummet. But that, Bloomberg said, does not mean students are doing worse. Instead, he told reporters, “you’re writing a story about a change in definition.” Any other take, he continued, might tell “the teachers, the principals, the parents and most particularly the students, that all the work theyíve done is for naught.”
In the state, 53 percents of students met the new standards in English and 61 percent in math, as opposed to 77 percent and 86 percent, respectively, in 2009.
In the city, using the new scale, only 54 percent of students in grades 3 through 8 met the standard for math and far less than half — 42.4 percent — did so for English, according to numbers released by the city.
More results — and the achievement gap — after the jump.
For middle school, always a laggard in public education, the results dipped lower. Only 37.5 percent of eight graders qualified as proficient in English, raising serious doubts about the ability of many to do high school work. Under the old cut-off, 68.2 percent would have met the standard in English and 83.3 percent in math.
Using either scale, though, far more New York City students met standards in 2010 than they had in 2006 when the city began relying on the state test.
The revised cutoff, though, did cause the so-called achievement gap between Asian and white students at one end and black and Latino students on the other to widen into a chasm. In 2009, with the old cutoff, 94.9 percent of Asian students met standards in math, followed by 92.2 percent of whites, 78.5 percent of Hispanics and 75 percent of blacks. That meant that at its widest — the difference between Asians and blacks — the gap in math was about 20 points. This year, though, with 81.7 percent of Asians getting levels 3 and 4, compared to the 40.4 percent of black students , the gap increased to more than 40 points. About 34 percentage points separated black and whites, while Latinos did a little better but still saw their scores lag substantially.
The English results brought similar findings. Here in 2009 the widest gap — between white students on one hand and Latinos on the other, amounted to almost 23 percentage points. This year that same difference widened to a bit more than 30 points, with a slightly wider difference between blacks and whites.
The new system also raised questions about gains by special education students, only 24 percent of whom met standards in math and 13.4 percent in English. English language learners also fared poorly, with only 13.5 meeting standards in English and less than a third in math,
Bloomberg and Klein pointed out repeatedly that the scores themselves — the actually numbers on the scale of 600 to 730 — had not gone down. After years of increases, this year they remained flat, with students getting a mean score in 679 in math, down a point form the previous year, and a 662 in English, unchanged from the 2009 result.
The flat results represented a sharp change from previous years — and last year’s mayoral campaign — when the administration trumpeted increases. But here too the mayor said the seemingly bad news was good. The tests, he maintained, had gotten harder.
“If the test is actually harder, the fact that the core stays the same is basically a compliment,” Bloomberg said.
Whether the test actually has been made more difficult remained a point of contention, although the state has said it plans to make the exams harder in the coming years.
Bloomberg and Klein said they endorsed the state’s higher standards. “The best way to improve student achievement is to demand higher results … because we should never doubt our students’ ability,” the mayor said.
Certainly the changes seem to do nothing to dim Bloomberg’s taste for testing or Klein’s affection for data.
“You can’t tell whether you doing a good job unless you have accountability and standards,” Bloomberg said and later embarked on a tangent about singing Kumbaya and holding hands to make people feel good. And Klein anticipated diving into the data with the best data system of any education system in the country (Yes, you can just ask Arne Duncan.)
As to whether Bloomberg and Klein are doing a good job, experts undoubtedly will have much to say in the coming hours. Certainly some will be uneasy that, after eight years of major changes and increased spending — to say nothing of all the hype and spin — less than four in 10 eight graders seem ready for high school. Others will say it could be a lot worse.
As the reaction comes in and more numbers are crunched, we’ll keep you posted.By Gail Robinson on July 28, 2010, 4:15 pm
In category: City Hall, Education, Eye on Albany | 3 Comments »