Although New York students posted their most substantial gains yet under the Common Core Learning Standards, the proportion of students meeting state reading and math targets still hovers around a third.
Results unexpectedly released late Friday showed that statewide the percentage of students deemed proficient went from 31.3 percent to 37.9 percent in reading and 38.1 percent to 39.1 percent in math. The proficiency rate in both subjects is up from 31.1 percent in 2013 when the state first started administering the Common Core tests.
Students in Buffalo saw similar results, with the percentage of students deemed proficient rising from 11.9 percent to 16.4 percent in reading and 15.1 percent to 16.1 percent in math.
State officials said it is difficult to determine exactly what drove the marginal improvements, and cautioned comparisons to last year because they made significant changes that could have affected results. Those included fewer test questions and allowing students more time to finish the exams. Still, State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia was optimistic the state is moving in the right direction.
“The Regents and I are committed to continuously improving our standards, our curriculum and our assessments,” Elia said in a media release. “Since my first day on the job a little over a year ago, I’ve been listening to parents, teachers, school administrators and the public – seeking their expertise on how we can improve. We’ve taken their advice and made important changes to the exams. It’s an ongoing process, but better standards, better curriculum and better tests will result in better student outcomes.”
New York has administered standardized tests to students for years, but the most recent exams based on the Common Core standards have become a flashpoint for controversy, drawing criticism from parents and teachers who question whether they are developmentally appropriate for children. Those critics have also attacked the state’s implementation of the new standards, saying that it rushed their implementation and did not provide adequate support to schools during the transition.
Ultimately, their concerns fueled the largest opt-out movement in the country, with roughly 20 percent of parents refusing the tests.
Elia has attempted to buffer that criticism and build more confidence in the state tests by conducting a listening tour and soliciting input from the public. In the days prior to this year’s test, she traveled the state urging parents to have their students take this year’s tests. Despite those efforts, the number of students refusing the exams remained at 21 percent.
Parents and test critics quickly took to social media after Friday’s announcement to question the validity of the results. Some questioned whether the state changed its scoring system to yield better results, although Elia said that was not the case.
“Of course we know data can be used to craft your point of view regardless,” parent Chris Cerrone, who is active in the opt -out movement, tweeted.
Parents haven’t been the only ones with concerns about the new standards. In December, a state task force deemed previous rounds of results unreliable and called to delay their use in teacher evaluations.
Elia acknowledged these concerns, and said the state will continue to address concerns as they arise.
She also noted work being done in some districts, particularly those with large numbers of poor students and struggling schools, to improve student outcomes. That includes supporting those schools targeted for an outside takeover with additional resources and wraparound services for students.
“This is a process,” she said. “Things aren’t going to happen overnight. Even after we’ve done a lot of improvements ,we’re still going to have more work to do.”