DESPITE REPORTS OF LESS TEST PREP, NORTH SHORE COMMON CORE TEST SCORES DO NOT APPEAR TO SUFFER ; IMPACT OF OPT OUT UNCLEAR
Updated August 21, 2014 (original post - August 20) -- This past Thursday, the New York State Department of Education released results for the grades 3-8 English Language Arts and Math standardized assessments based on the Common Core Learning Standards. Despite reports from district administrators and some students that there was less formal test preparation this past year than during each of the previous three years, grade level performance overall appears not to have suffered, although with nearly 10% of students having opted out, it is difficult to draw any clear conclusions from the data without looking at each individual child’s scores.
North Shore’s ELA scores were more or less on par with last year, with some grade levels showing slight gains in the percentages of students scoring at or above the state’s proficiency cut off (3’s and 4’s) and others slightly lower than in 2013. (see accompanying chart)
Like districts across the state, a significantly greater percentage of North Shore students demonstrated “proficiency” on the Math Assessment than last year. The uniformity and level of the rise across the state suggest adjustments to the exams, with perhaps more coherently worded questions, may have played a greater role in the higher scores than any changes to instruction and actual student performance. Unlike after last year’s exam, the State Education Department has released some of this year’s questions.
However, it could also be argued that schools and teachers state-wide were in a better position to prepare students for these exams, knowing from September what was coming in April, rather than being told in January of the new exams to be administered only a few months later - as had been the case the previous year.
The numbers for the North Shore district, as well as for many others, were perhaps somewhat skewed this year due to a relatively large percentage of students opting out of the exams. Overall, 110, or 9.9%, of the 1,111 North Shore students scheduled to take the Math exams opted out this past April, and 125, or 9.7%, of 1,295 students refused the ELA exams.
In the 6th grade, 24 fewer students (182) took this year’s ELA than that same cohort did the previous year (206) as 5th graders. While the percentage achieving proficiency dropped from 61.6% to 51%, it is unclear from the data whether the large number of opt-outs were responsible for the decline. Likewise, it is unclear whether opt-outs boosted the results for this year's 8th grade ELA exam in which 47 fewer students (176) took the exam than did last year as seventh graders (223). As a grade, the percentage scoring at or above the proficiency level rose from 66 to 70 percent.
Schools Superintendent Dr. Edward Melnick said in response to questions from Northwordnews that most of the students who opted out this year had received 3 or 4 on the exams last year, and therefore believes that "our percentage of 3's and 4's would have been slightly higher if all students took the tests."
With only 28 students taking for the 8th grade common core math exam, as most of that grade instead sat for the 9th grade algebra Regents, and 223 having taken the 7th grade exam last year, it is nearly impossible to infer much from the 14% figure for students scoring 3’s or 4’s in comparing that grade’s performance to last year’s 56.5% reaching that level without looking at individual student performance.
Although the State Education Department is only requiring districts to provide Academic Intervention Services (AIS) to students receiving a 1 on the exams, Dr. Melnick said that the district "will continue to service all students who we believe need support."
The percentages of North Shore students scoring at proficiency level were significantly higher than the average of Nassau County districts, and comparable to surrounding districts with similar demographics and income levels (Roslyn, Manhasset, Great Neck, Locust Valley) and that are often labeled “high performing,” with greater percentages of North Shore students scoring 3’s and 4’s at some grade levels and lower percentages in others. (Click here for link to New York Department of Education data on school district performance - Nassau County results start on page 251 and North Shore's results can be found on page 294.)
In explaining how North Shore students performed similarly, and in some cases better, on the tests this year compared to last year, without as much formal test preparation, Dr. Melnick said that "there was still test prep that went on" - and "still too much in certain cases." Additionally, he said he believed "we are seeing the benefits of our implementation of the TC (Teachers College) Workshop Model for literacy in grades K-8."
Overall, the Superintendent said that he was "pleased with the scores," but warned not to give them too much weight. "They are only one set of indicators as to how students are performing," he said. "I do not think they are valuable except for our use of the data to improve student learning and to review our curriculum."
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