Standardized Test Results Raise Controversy Over Learning Fundamentals

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Since their release last Wednesday, the results of the April 2013 grades 3-8 Math and English Language Arts (ELA) assessments are being reviewed and studied and the effectiveness of the newly adopted Common Core Learning Standards they measure scrutinized.

For the most part, the scores across the board are lower than last year, yet proponents of the new program claim this first year for the new tests becomes the bar for future measure.

According to New York State Education Commissioner John B. King, Jr., in a release issued with the results, the Common Core standards are more rigorous than past standards because they emphasize deep analysis and creative problem solving over short answers and memorization. The recalibration is intended to better prepare students for college and the workforce.

In the area of English Language Arts, literacy takes on new meaning as a student’s ability to read is accentuated by her ability to understand a story, gather ideas from it and form opinions. Similarly, with math, the goal is to understand the logic of equations and problem solving through analysis rather than merely applying memorized theorems.

With much media focus on the poor showing of New York City School students and some educators claiming the new standards are a step backwards, results across Westchester County tell a different story.

Results for all third graders taking the test in White Plains Public Schools, for example, show that 65 percent achieved low scores at Level 1 and 2 for language arts, while 35 percent achieved higher scores at Level 3 and 4. Math scores were comparable.

In Bryam Hills Central School District the scores for third graders taking the same test resulted in an almost 50/50 split between high and low scorers with a trend to higher scoring on the math test.

In Chappaqua the scores leaned heavily to the high side, and in the Greenburgh Central School District trending was higher, almost 80 percent on the low scores and minimal on the higher scores.

Across the board, trending within school districts from grades 3 to 8 remained fairly static.

Those school districts located in urban areas tested lower on average than those located in the more affluent suburban communities. In some areas, class sizes varied by community.

The complete test results for each grade and school within a New York State school district can be viewed at www. nysed.gov. Charts and analysis are also provided for both educator and parental review.

Weighing in on the results, Commissioner King emphasized that scores do not reflect a decrease in performance for schools or students, but that the new assessments are a better and more accurate tool for educators.

“The world has changed, the economy has changed, and what our students need to know has changed,” Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch said. “These scores reflect a new beginning. We have just finished the first year of a dramatic shift in teaching and learning.”

King noted that the scores would not negatively impact district, school, principal or teacher accountability. “No new schools will be identified as Focus Districts and no new schools will be identified as priority schools based on 2012-13 assessment results,” he said.

With some unease that the depth of testing difficulty was increased in early 2013, local teachers have expressed concern that they did not have enough training and time to apply the new standards and that curriculum development had fallen in large part on their shoulders at the same time they needed to prepare for the tests.

Pam Allyn, founder and director of LitWorld, an organization promoting the advancement of literacy worldwide, is a firm believer in the Common Core standards. Saying she believes in the transformative power of literacy, Allyn promotes the improvement of reading skills among all children. In a recent web-based interview she said that over 80 percent of high school graduates in the United States do not read during the summer months when they’re off from school and that continues when their education is finished.

Too often teachers cause their students to focus on memorizing the short answers and not enough time is spent on analytic competency, she claims.

Over 45 states have already opted for the Common Core Standards. New York began in 2010 with the first round of testing this year.

 

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