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State education department raises the bar for student achievement
New “cut scores” could mean a dip in test scores for districts across the state

July 21, 2010

During the week of July 26, the New York State Education Department (SED) will release test scores for the grades 3-8 math and English language arts exams that were administered to students in May 2010. The results will reflect newly adopted procedures from SED that raise the scores students must earn in order to be considered “proficient” in a subject.

In a report released by the Board of Regents this week entitled: "A New Standard for Proficiency: College Readiness," (pdf) the Regents used a variety of academic performance statistics to justify this change, saying, "The Regents raised (academic) standards a decade ago. Now the Regents are embarking on a new era of reform to improve student achievement and better prepare graduates for college."

Because of these new procedures, school leaders across the state are anticipating a dip in student scores—with fewer students being considered “proficient.”

Under the state’s testing system, “cut scores” are used to classify students into one of four performance levels. Students at Level 1 are not meeting learning standards; those at Level 2 are partially meeting learning standards; pupils at Level 3 are meeting learning standards and those at Level 4 are meeting learning standards with distinction. SED has just raised the cut scores for Level 3, meaning students must achieve at higher levels than ever before in order to be considered proficient.

“The state has essentially raised the bar for all students who take these exams. Given this, we are anticipating that fewer students will be placed in Level 3 when we receive the text results next week,” Superintendent Dr. Kathleen Spring said. “If this happens, our overall district scores will appear lower.”
“Moving forward, we will provide academic intervention services to students who require them and we will continue to work with our school staff members, state leaders, parents and community to help all students reach their full potential,” Spring added.

Part of a larger trend to raise student achievement

SED’s change in the cut scores for the grades 3-8 math and English language arts scores are just one part of a larger effort in New York to raise student achievement. Education Commissioner David Steiner and his colleagues have been traveling around the state over the last few weeks to not only forewarn of an expected drop-off in test scores, but also to share details on the state’s new push toward tests that are less predictable and more demanding.

In a press release on the SED Web site, SED Senior Deputy Commissioner John King said, “The data shows that schools responded to the assignment they were given—they worked hard to help students achieve standards as measured by the state tests that were being given at the time. And more students did, in fact, pass those tests. The problem is that those exams didn’t sufficiently test students’ abilities—the bar was set too low. But we’re changing that now. It’s time to end the annual debate over whether our tests have become easier and to put to rest questions about what it means to achieve proficiency in New York.”

In the same press release, Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch added, “For the past several years, we have seen more and more students scoring ‘proficient’ or better on our state tests. At the same time, however, their performance on the NAEP exam— the gold standard in testing— has remained essentially flat. We haven’t been testing the right things in the right ways. ‘Proficiency’ on our exams has to mean something real; no good purpose is served when we say that a child is proficient when that child is not. So we’re improving our assessments by raising cut scores, making the exams less predictable, testing more areas, and making the tests longer. But more rigorous exams are only one piece of the Regents broader reform vision— a vision that includes a more challenging curriculum, better training for teachers and principals, and a world-class data system. In short, we are lifting the bar to ensure that New York remains at the very forefront of the national effort to raise standards.”

For more information, visit the NYSED website.

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