Student Achievement

Mixed Bag for N.Y. State Students in Second Year of Common-Core Tests

By Andrew Ujifusa — August 14, 2014 5 min read
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New York state students in grades 3-8 improved their performance in math in their second year of taking tests aligned to the Common Core State Standards, according to results released Thursday. But their performance in English/language arts was virtually flat, and significant achievement gaps between racial and economic subgroups persisted.

From the 2012-13 school year, the first year new state tests aligned to the common core were given, to the 2013-14 school year, the percentage of all students who were proficient on the math test rose from approximately 31 percent to 36 percent. White and Asian students showed the largest score gains among racial subgroups, and charter school students also showed relatively large improvement.

In English/language arts, the picture was less rosy for Empire State students. The proficiency rate for all students increased slightly, from 31.3 percent proficient in 2012-13 to 31.4 percent proficient in 2013-14. The proficiency rate for white students declined a notch, from 40 percent to 39 percent. Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians all registered score gains of under 4 percentage points.

You can see students’ performance on New York state assessments in grades 3-8 on E/LA and math over the last three years below. Remember that the state switched to the new common-core assessment in the 2012-13 academic year, when the state made achieving proficiency more difficult, leading to lower scores that year.

N.Y. State Scores in EnglishLanguage Arts N.Y. State Scores in Math | Create Infographics

Looking at that chart, you might be led to ask: What about economically disadvantaged students in New York state? We don’t have overall or more specific score information about them for 2013-14 yet, because their test scores weren’t part of the information initially released by the New York state education department Aug. 14. (The score reports specifically for the economically disadvantaged student subgroup, which includes those who qualify for free and reduced-price meals, are supposed to be available Aug. 15.)

However, the department did release information that tracked how schools with varying rates of students in poverty performed on the tests. Below, for example, is a chart for the E/LA scores from schools tracked by their poverty levels:

The department tracked results from students as they moved from one grade to the other “so that we can focus on growth,” state Commissioner of Education John King said in a conference call with reporters.

“New York students are making progress,” King said.

He said he wasn’t sure why overall math scores rose while E/LA scores remained flat. But King did note that improving scores in the latter could take more time: “The shifts in English/language arts instruction are more variable. We see that in our school visits.”

Tests were scored on a scale of 1-4. Students scoring 3 or 4 were counted as proficient and excelling, respectively.

“We still have a very long way to go, and there is still much more to do,” said state Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch during the call.

King stressed that the improvement in math was across a variety of groups, including New York City students, in large cities, and in rural districts. New York City students improved at a greater rate on the E/LA tests (by 2 percentage points, from about 27 percent proficient to about 29 percent proficient) than all students statewide, although their overall scores still lagged behind statewide performance. The improvement in the Big Apple, the nation’s largest school district, occurred across racial subgroups:

For the complete 2013-14 results, including those broken down by grade levels and other categories, click here.

Diplomas and Partial Proficiency

In its released information, the state department also focused on students who were considered at least “partially proficient.” That category includes students who scored at least a 2 on the tests. When judged by that standard, student performance obviously looks much better. In math, the share of students scoring partially proficient rose to 70 percent from 67, while in E/LA the increase was from 69 percent to 70 percent.

It’s important to remember that students’ proficiency rates on common-core aligned tests won’t impact students’ ability to graduate for several years.

The Class of 2022, the cohort of students in 4th grade in the 2013-14 school year, will be the first group of students who must achieve proficiency on common-core aligned tests in order to graduate. Meanwhile, the Class of 2017 will be the first class where students must achieve at least partial proficiency on those tests in order to receive a diploma.

In addition, legislation approved this year prohibits these test scores from being the primary factor in decisions about promoting students.

Kentucky is the other state that has two years’ worth of common-core aligned test data available. As with New York state, Bluegrass State students overall showed some progress in their second year of taking common-core tests. But that wasn’t true for all student subgroups in Kentucky, and overall the picture was definitely mixed there as well.

A Year of Turbulence

The results added heat to a debate that had already been percolating in the Empire State about the new assessments and the implementation of the standards.There were several high-profile political and policy shifts in New York after the first set of common-core-aligned test scores were released, including:

• The New York State United Teachers’ declared last January that it was withdrawing its support for the common core because of what it deemed were several crucial bungles, including problems with classroom lessons released by the state. The union also called for a moratorium on using common-core-aligned test scores to judge teachers, and gave King a vote of “no confidence.”

• Lawmakers subsequentlyapproved changes to the state’s teacher-evaluation system that prohibits teachers and principals from being rated as “ineffective” or “developing” because of scores on the common-core-aligned tests in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years.

• Rob Astorino, a Republican candidate for governor, as well as the state GOP, filed a petition with 62,000 signatures to create a “Stop Common Core” line on the New York election ballot for Nov. 4. If it’s certified by state election officials, all four statewide GOP candidates would appear on that ballot line, which could be a way for Republicans to capitalize on anger over the common core in New York.

That anger isn’t confined to the GOP. Zephyr Teachout, an associate professor at Fordham University who is challenging Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the Democratic primary, is basing her campaign in part on opposition to how the common core has played out in New York:

The primary election for statewide officials is Sept. 9.

A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.