Student Test Scores Up In New York But Can’t Compare!

Dear Commons Community, 

In nearly every New York school district, students did better on the annual math and reading exams. But comparing the results with previous years’ is impossible.

It is a big question without an easy answer: Are New York’s students improving in reading, writing and math?  As reported by the New York Times:

“Last spring, 950,000 third- through eighth-graders across New York State took standardized English and math exams. Across the state, they seem to have done better.

In New York City, scores jumped by about 6 percentage points in English and about 5 points in math — meaning just under 47 percent of city students passed the English test, and about 43 percent of students passed the math exam.

But instead of trumpeting the results, the state’s Department of Education delayed releasing them for six weeks. And then, in announcing them Wednesday, the department cautioned that the exams cannot be measured against previous tests and should be considered a new baseline.That is because this year’s exams were redesigned to reduce the test length to two days from three; that made the tests too different to be compared, the department said.

Though state tests carry lower stakes now than at any other point in the past decade, the results are still the most commonly used measure of how much progress schools — and the city and state more broadly — are making in educating students.

 “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.

This year’s scores are the latest confusing data points in a long history of zigzagging test results in New York, but what they do tell us is how much the political pendulum has swung on standardized testing.”

Just after No Child Left Behind and its mantra of standardized testing, school districts around the country were subjected to a barrage of tests that were reported far and wide every year.  Testing has become routinized and no longer is on the top of school reform priorities.   This year’s results will no doubt influence fresh questions about education policy in New York, including the state Board of Regents’ decision about whether to use exam results in teacher evaluations. Those debates will reveal much about how New York, considered one of the country’s education reform capitals just a few years ago, is tracking in an entirely new direction on education policy.


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