Accountability

Everything You Need To Know About NYC’s Test Scores

Yesterday the New York City Department of Education released student test scores on standardized test scores. What do they mean?

It depends on whom you ask.

Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said this:

“These scores are indicative of the sustained progress we have made in classrooms, schools and districts across all five boroughs,” Carranza said in a statement. “We have much more work to do to close opportunity gaps, and we will continue our push to deliver the equitable and excellent education that every New York City public school student deserves.”

State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said this:

State tests have changed several times since 2012, making it hard to judge long-term trends. This year’s scores can’t be compared with last year’s because testing was cut from three days in each subject to two.

“You can’t do it, it’s not valid, and I’m not doing it,” said the commissioner, adding that the next two years’ results will be comparable—before tests change again in spring of 2021 to reflect evolving standards.

So, who’s right? Does the increase in test scores, which measure student proficiency in English and math, mean that the NYC school system is improving? After all, scores increased by six points in English, to 46.7 percent proficiency,  and five points in math, to 42.7 percent. That’s good, right?

Not really. Elia is more proficient in measuring progress than Carranza because comparing this year’s scores to last year’s scores is comparing apples and oranges. Why? Because in a show of weakness, the State Board of Regents, with the blessing of Governor Andrew Cuomo, shortened the tests, lowered the stakes for teachers to, well, nothing (there’s a moratorium on tying student outcomes to teacher evaluations), and made the tests easier.

And NYC’s greatest challenge, the yawning achievement gap between white and Asian students compared to students of color and low-income students, continues to gape. From Chalkbeat: “In English, 34 percent of black students were proficient, and in math 25.5 were. Almost 10 percent of students who are learning English as a new language passed reading exams and 18 percent passed math exams. By contrast, white students had a 66.5 percent pass rate in English and 63.6 pass rate in math.”

Save the celebration, folks. Here are two experts that verify Elia’s interpretation (via the New York Times):

  • “If the tests have changed a lot, then we won’t learn much about trends, maybe nothing about trends,” in student performance, said Daniel Koretz, a professor at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education who studies testing.
  • “It does undermine the credibility of an assessment system when things change so much in a short number of years,” said Aaron Pallas, a professor at Columbia University’s Teachers College. “It’s very confusing even to people who are paying attention.”

There was far better news from the charter sector. The Post reports that “in the city, 57 percent of African-American charter students scored proficient in English vs. 34 percent in the regular public schools. In math, it was 58.6 percent vs. 25.4 percent. For Hispanics, it was 54.5 percent at charters vs. 36 percent for regular district schools in English, and 57 percent vs. 30 percent in math. And the charter sector has nearly eliminated the achievement gap.”

Here’s James Merriman of the NYC Charter School Center:

Today, it’s more clear than ever why so many New York City families have chosen to send their children to charter schools. The city’s charter schools continue to deliver extraordinary results for disadvantaged students and have eliminated the achievement gap that otherwise persists across the city and the state. Progress is taking place across the board—for African American, Latino and low income students, as well English language learners and students with special needs. This was the goal when charters first opened 20 years ago and remains the goal today.

Currently there 52,700 children sitting on charter school waiting lists. With 236 charter schools operating in the City, the state cap allows for only 28 more. Sadly, Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carranza appeared unequivocally opposed to lifting the cap, despite parent demand.

“Our focus should not be on the expansion of charters,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said after a press conference touting the city’s scores. “Our focus should be on doing the hard work of making our traditional public schools better.” De Blasio’s answer — “The charter cap is perfectly sufficient the way it is” — was little surprise, given the mayor’s historical antipathy toward charter schools.

“We should not be talking about lifting a charter cap,” Carranza said. “We should be talking about investing more resources from the state in fully funding our Fair Student Funding formula. That’s what we should be talking about.” Later that evening, Carranza dug in his heels while speaking to a crowd gathered for a town hall at P.S. 163 in Manhattan’s District 3. Asked how the education department could help schools that compete with charters, the chancellor suggested he would take an aggressive approach — even while insisting he’s not “the enemy of charter schools. “What I’m saying is we need to take care of our own house,” Carranza said to enthusiastic applause.

In other words, it’s not about parent choice and student academic growth. It’s about market share. 

A few other highlights from local coverage:

  • Opt-out rates were down, although Long Island is still the epicenter test-antagonism. According to Chalkbeat, state officials said the “vast majority” of students who refused tests came from average or low-need school districts.
  • Eliza Shapiro at the Times recounts the last 16 years of New York State’s testing history. In 2002 Mayor Mike Bloomberg “based his aggressive, accountability-driven reforms of the city’s school system on the state’s standardized exams,” which garnered lower test scores because the tests were aligned with college and career-ready standards. But after political blowback from the teachers union and suburban parents, as well as Cuomo’s retreat on accountability, “this year’s results, based on shifting goal posts and shorter exams, may represent the final nail in the coffin for the state’s hopes of leading the nation on the Common Core.”
  • Leslie Brody at the Wall Street Journal quotes Ian Rosenblum of  The Education Trust–New York: “These results reinforce the central equity challenge of focusing our attention, urgency and resources to support the groups of students who have been historically underserved in our education system.”

 

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