Assessing the fallout on assessment results

Friday, July 30th, 2010 at 3:54 pm by

Media reporting on the release of grades 3 through 8 state assessment results included a lot of criticism of how the State Education Department handled the implementation of adjusting cut scores – doing it after the tests had been given, or changing the rules after the game had begun, as some characterized the action.

Most of the criticism came from educators.  See the Buffalo News, Middletown Times-Herald Record, and Newsday (paid subscription required), for example.

But the Syracuse Post-Standard also published a harsh editorial.

At the same time, most newspaper editorials have praised the Department’s action in acknowledging testing flaws and moving to set higher standards.  Here is what the New York Times had to say.

The Council tried to draw attention to additional points:  Actual student scores did not decline — there was not a fall-off in school performance, school leaders support higher standards, and the state has much more work to do to help schools and students succeed in meeting higher standards.

The New York City United Federation of Teachers “EDwise” blog provided a thoughtful analysis, noting,

“It’s true, in a sense, that all that happened Wednesday was the state reported test scores using a higher cut-score… But a lot more happened than that.  As State Education Commissioner David Steiner explained at the state’s press conference, the state tests have not simply become too easy. They have become bad tests.

The union blog goes on, “They have been assessing only a very narrow band of state standards and virtually ignoring the rest of the state curriculum. They have repeated questions from year to year, making it easy to game the tests. And they do not reflect what students need to succeed in college and careers.”

The post then notes widening achievement gaps, cites the limits of test-prep curricula and explains how SED plans to improve the tests.

Some coverage picked up on the fact that results in some charter schools declined by more than those in district schools.

The Council tried to draw attention to the positive – not about SED’s implementation – but about schools and school leaders.

We noted that have not been satisfied with the tests, the standards, or our pace of progress for some time (see our Education is a Civil Right reform agenda or our Skills for Life column on updating state learning standards).

Quite a few papers around the state cited our statement.

We stressed that actual scores earned by students remained about the same as last year, indicating that the decline in the percentage of students meeting standards was due to setting a higher standard, not a fall-off in school performance (see the lower Hudson Valley’s Journal News for example).

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made the same point.

At the same time, we warned that schools could be set up to fail – being asked to do more for students, while the state is reducing revenues for schools  (See Newsday and Gannett, for example).

We also emphasized that the state needs to do more than just adjust cut scores on elementary and middle grade assessments.  The Albany Times Union and some other papers quoted from our statement,

“The state needs to give schools a clear sense of the ultimate goal we should aim for — what should students know and be able to do when they graduate from high school. The 3 through 8 tests are just one part of a system that needs to work together to help schools lead students to that goal.”

Here is our complete statement.

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