According to this year’s math and English Language Arts (ELA) tests administered by the state of New York, less than a third of students in grades three through eight are performing at grade level.
The scores, released Wednesday, Aug. 7, represent a significant drop since last year, but State Education Commissioner John King said there is no cause for alarm.
“These proficiency scores do not reflect a drop in performance, but rather a raising of standards to reflect college and career readiness in the 21st century,” King said. “I understand these scores are sobering for parents, teachers, and principals. It’s frustrating to see our children struggle. But we can’t allow ourselves to be paralyzed by frustration; we must be energized by this opportunity. The results we’ve announced are not a critique of past efforts; they’re a new starting point on a road map to future success.”
The percentage of students who reached proficiency levels in the Skaneateles Central School District, dropped significantly from last year’s results, though the district’s results are still above the state-wide average of 31 percent of students reaching or exceeding proficiency for math and 31.1 percent for ELA.
The average across all grades in Skaneateles was 80.1 percent for ELA last year and 53.5 percent this year. For math, the average dropped from 82.1 percent to 41.2 precent.
This year’s exams mark the first time exams incorporated the Common Core learning standards, a more rigorous benchmark approved by the Board of Regents in 2010.
The Skaneateleles board of education has taken multiple measures recently in anticipation of the more advanced standards that will come with the transition to the Common Core standards. Earlier this year the board voted to switch to full-day kindergarten citing the increased standards for first graders under the common core as one of the reasons.
The district also recently designated four half-days for staff development this year, with the stated purpose of helping transition the teachers to the new standards and curriculum changes.
The Common Core requirements, which have been adopted in states across the country, are aimed at helping children acquire sophisticated reasoning skills. The goal behind these standards is to move the schools away from rote learning to a writing-intensive curriculum that emphasizes problem-solving skills. Tests are graded on a scale of 1 to 4; levels 3 and 4 indicate proficiency. This year the state averages were about 31 percent, last year those numbers were closer to 55 percent, but state education officials said the tests are so different that they shouldn’t be compared.
“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 baseline and a new beginning. We have just finished the first year of a dramatic shift in teaching and learning. Teachers, principals, superintendents and school boards have worked extraordinarily hard to implement the Common Core. With the right tools, the right training, and continuous feedback and support, our teachers — the best teaching force in the country — will make sure all our students are prepared for college and career success in the 21st century.”
Because these scores supposedly create a new “baseline” for measuring student achievement, King asserted that they would not affect state aid for districts, nor would they negatively impact teacher and principal evaluations.
The major issue, however, is that many of New York’s teachers say they were — and still are — inadequately prepared to teach Common Core, and that’s what contributed to low scores.
“These tests were attached to Common Core standards, which have been incompletely rolled out in New York,” said Dr. Teresa Thayer Snyder, superintendent of the Voorheesville Central School District near Albany; the district boasts a 97 percent high school graduation rate, yet has comparable ELA and math proficiency levels to the rest of the state. Snyder, who has been a school administrator for several years, made the comments on her blog, which has been praised by education policy analyst Diane Ravitch. “The material covered large quantities of information that have not been taught, with texts well past grade level and concepts that require cognitive processing that is more typical of older students. From my point of view, after many years of studying teaching and learning — and multiple years spent working in schools — these assessments are impure science. I cannot justify impure science as a means of determining student learning or teacher effectiveness.”
Snyder even questioned whether Common Core was all the state was making it out to be.
“The Common Core standards are being widely heralded as the best thing to happen in education — a message initiated by the author of the same standards,” she wrote. “Truthfully, we don’t know if they are better than what we have had, we won’t know for several years. I would take considerably more comfort in this optimistic view if it were not rooted in the verbiage of their architect. What has been accomplished here is a phenomenal marketing job — so much spin about so little substantive work, with no research base to support the claims.”
“There comes a time when we need to stand up and point out that there are too many holes here,” Snyder said. “This is not about educational reform, it is about degrading the work that we do in schools.”
For more on Common Core, visit engageny.org.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review she can be reached at email@example.com. Joe Genco is the editor of the Skaneateles Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sarah Hall is the editor of the Eagle Star-Review and the Baldwinsville Messenger. The 2012 winner of the Syracuse Press Club's Selwyn Kershaw Professional Standards Award, she has been with Eagle Newspapers since 2006. She is a Liverpool native.
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