What Did the Release of the New York State Grades 3-8 Common Core Scores Tell Us About Teaching and Learning? (Aside from Geography, Sadly, is Destiny)) The Answer: Nothing.

Four months after the administration of the federally required grades 3-8 tests the state released the scores.

See lengthy state press release here.

Test scores by school here.

Diane Ravitch trashes claims about the tests,

But also bear in mind that the “cut scores” or “passing marks” are not based on science. They are judgments that may be affected by politics. If too many children pass, the cut score may be raised; if too many children fail, the cut score may be lowered. Ultimately, there is no objective way to measure how many students are “college-and-career-ready.”

Take a look at the third grade Literature/Reading Standards here – the issue is the test constructors, the psychometricians, have to create questions to assess the “learning” of the standards, and, as the NY Times shows the third grade questions that were released by the state were “tricky” and ambiguous.

In the third year of Common Core tests we have seen minimal progress, not because teachers are inept, or kids aren’t learning, the flat scores simply reflect tests that are meaningless.

Chancellor Tisch touts the “value and importance of these tests for our children’s education.” What value? The tests are required by the 2002 No Child Left Behind law and in order to qualify for the $700 million in Race to the Top funding; the state adopted the Common Core and created the new tests. Scores flipped from two-thirds of kids “passing” to two-thirds of kids “failing.”

“This year, there was a significant increase in the number of students refusing the annual assessments,” Chancellor Tisch said. “We must do more to ensure that our parents and teachers understand the value and importance of these tests for our children’s education. Our tests have been nationally recognized for providing the most honest look at how prepared our students are for future success, and we believe annual assessments are essential to ensure all students make educational progress and graduate college and career ready. Without an annual testing program, the progress of our neediest students may be ignored or forgotten, leaving these students to fall further behind. This cannot happen.”

The current tests do not impact children: why are we giving tests that have no impact on students? In New York State the only purpose of the tests are to judge teachers, principals and schools.

The Chancellor’s accusation that “Without an annual testing program, the progress of our neediest students may be ignored or forgotten, leaving these students to fall further behind” is absurd.

We have been testing students for over a century, the Regents exams, and before NCLB the state required testing in the fourth and eighth grade and city gave tests on all grades each year.

As teachers we “test” students all the time, the Friday spelling test, unit tests, projects, we ask kids to write essays, to answer in class; teaching and learning is a process. I sat in on a meeting of secondary school math teachers a few days after the new Common Core Algebra Regents. The teachers had created an error matrix, the most frequent incorrect answers, and examined their lesson plans for the specific lesson. The teachers asked, “How can we change our lessons to address the incorrect student answers?” The Regents exams are marked within days and can inform instruction.

Unfortunately the state tests are not based on a curriculum; schools have adopted the Engage NY curriculum modules, and, hope that the modules will be reflected on the state exams. Scores released in August, four months after the administration of the test and only releasing some of the questions does not aid teachers in planning.

Parents of 200,000 kids chose to opt-out of the exams, and the movement may very well grow next year. The new Commissioner poured gasoline on the opt-out fire by threatening to withhold funding from high opt-out schools .

Individual schools could lose funding if large numbers of students opt out of state standardized tests in April, state education commissioner MaryEllen Elia said on Wednesday.

The state Education Department is in conversations with the U.S. Department of Education working on a plan regarding possible sanctions for districts with high opt-out rates, Elia said.

In the conference call with reporters, Elia said the sanctions weren’t clearly defined and could simply consist of a phone call to superintendents asking what happened and what they plan to do differently next year. But it’s also possible that federal Title I funds will be withheld, she said.

If Commissioner Elia thinks she can coerce parents into not opting out she is mistaken. If the reauthorization of NCLB becomes law, states will have wider discretion in their testing program, and, with the firing of Pearson, the state should reconfigure the tests.

Cut scores are set by the Commissioner, there is no formula, the state decided to create a test that failed two-thirds of all students. Secretary of Education Duncan and former Commissioner King believed that principals and teachers could be threatened into “teaching better” and kids into “learning better.” (“The beatings will continue until the scores increase”)

We have always incorporated standards into our teaching, the Common Core State Standards are simply a new set of standards, and the standards are a list of skills we expect a student to acquire at each grade.

Unfortunately the modules, the de facto curriculum, vary widely, from clear and coherent to incoherent, and, the modules are not aligned to the state tests.

Next year is an election year, every member of the state legislature is up for election, and the parents of 200,000 students are angry. The members of the legislature will have to decide whether to stick with a commissioner who threatens school district funding, or intervene to support parents by changing the direction of the state testing program.

As a former Speaker of the House of Representatives opined, “All politics is local.”

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One response to “What Did the Release of the New York State Grades 3-8 Common Core Scores Tell Us About Teaching and Learning? (Aside from Geography, Sadly, is Destiny)) The Answer: Nothing.

  1. Let me address and reinforce two points Ed’s column. Tests are meaningless precisely because they are written to sort out students (Thems what know from thems what don’t.). That is why questions get phrased in ways that can be confusing; it tells us who is easily confused (and maybe doesn’t really know) and who can solve both the language and the question. This is just as true on math tests as it is on reading tests. When researchers have asked students why they chose particular answers to reading comprehension questions, the students always had answers that made sense from their point of view. Manipulating the language of questions is the way to make them harder and better at sorting against a “standard” correct answer. In the end all we get from tests are scores that rank students either against one another or against, an arbitrary, cut score.

    Secondly tests don’t tell us whether students are college or career ready because they do not test those underlying skills. At best, and this is sometimes a stretch as the first point indicates, they tell us if students have the basic skills they need. The tests don’t tell us if the student will read (or does read) voluntarily. The scores don’t tell us if the student will read the requisite 500 to 1000 pages per week that many college course loads require. The tests don’t tell us how well the student will be able to retain the information over time, whether the student has learned (and uses) a system for note taking that will allow her/him to easily find material when needed to write a paper or to study for an exam.

    None of the Common Core tests measure skills that are related to the workplace: punctuality, conduct, being prepared for work, willingness to work on tasks that are repetitive or not inherently rewarding or interesting.

    Those who are defending these tests are really defending the system that denigrates and doesn’t trust teachers to know and be able to report objectively on what their students can and can’t do. Despite this distrust and the existence of the SAT scores, the most selective colleges want to see recommendations from teachers to make their admission decisions. They recognize that the teacher who has worked with he student has the best sense of whether that student is ready for college level work.

    It is time for the educational policy makers (most of whom have not taught and have only their perceptions as students, often decades ago, of what teachers do) to start to take direction from those who know the students, the tests, and the curriculum the best. It the policy makers want to help, then they should fund research to help us all identify students who will thrive in college and to help us teach job readiness skills to those who want to go directly into the workforce.

    Liked by 1 person

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