The New York State Education Department is predicting a sharp decline in ELA and Math pass rates on the new Grade 3 – 8 assessments to be administered this April.
At a November 2012 panel discussion in New York City, Board of Regents chancellor Merryl Tisch stated: “We would not be surprised if we saw the scores come down. If as a result of a new standard we see a temporary dip in the performance on standardized tests, I would welcome that temporary dip as a way of taking us to a place where we know we really need to go.” According to published reports, Tisch declined to predict by how much scores would decline.
In a March 2013 memo to school administers, deputy commissioner Ken Slenz goes further. Referring to the new grade 3 – 8 ELA and Math assessments to be administered in April, he states: “It is likely that the statewide percentage of students at or above grade level expectations (i.e., passing) on the new tests will generally be consistent with student performance on the “aspirational” graduation rate measures and NAEP scores…”
Earlier in the same memo, Slenz referenced the state’s performance on those measures:
- “Only 30% and 35% of New York’s Grade 8 students scored proficient on the (2011) NAEP in math and reading, respectively.”
- “Only 30.9% of the 2006 cohort graduated with a Regents diploma with Advanced Designation, and only 36.7% of the graduates in the cohort scored at least 75 and 80 on their English and math Regents exams, respectively.”
ELA pass rates will drop by almost a third; Math, by well over a third
In real terms, then, what will be the decline in pass rates? The Slenz memo does not make an explicit prediction but we can estimate the anticipated decline based on his figures. In July 2012, the education department reported performance on the most recent ELA and Math assessments: “55.1% of grade 3-8 students across the State met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard…64.8% met or exceeded the standard in math.”
Deputy commissioner Slenz’s range of figures suggest that
- ELA pass rates will decline from 55% to 30-37% passing.
- Math pass rates will decline from 65% passing to 30-37% passing.
Even using the higher end of the range, the Slenz memo suggests that pass rates on ELA will drop by almost a third and on Math by well over a third. This anticipated decline is surely more than the “temporary dip” referred to by chancellor Tisch.
School improvement teams frustrated
State assessments perform many functions. Education departments and state legislatures use them to determine school accountability as well as to calculate teacher and administrator performance reviews. School improvement teams use them to track performance over time and to determine whether or not their improvement strategies are robust or ineffectual. For the assessment results to be of any use to a school improvement team, there needs to be a trend. However, here in New York, the education department’s habit of introducing new assessments with increasing frequency makes them almost useless for monitoring school improvement efforts.
Consider. New York’s first Grade 3 – 8 ELA and math assessments were in place from 2006 through 2009. In 2010, they were replaced with new, more rigorous assessments. Thus, 2010 became a new baseline and school improvement teams discarded the 2006 to 2009 performance trend. The numbers were apples to oranges. School districts now have a three-year (2010 to 2012) trend, but the new April 2013 assessment results will establish a new baseline once again. Then, in 2015 the state plans to implement the PARCC assessments. Thus it appears that New York’s school districts will have to wait until 2018 before they have a three-year trend on Grade 3 – 8 ELA and math state assessment results.