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New York Common Core Tests Show Little Improvement

New York is among the first states to offer new standardized tests to go along with the new, more rigorous educational standards known as the Common Core. Last year, the first time the tests were given, only about one-third of all students in third through eighth grades were deemed “proficient.” That alarmed some parents and educators, who criticized the standards, the tests, and the rush to implement both.

The results this year, released Aug. 14, are a little better but probably won’t do much to ease those concerned. The percentage of students who scored a 3 or 4 (the highest score) on the math test rose from 31.2 percent to 35.8 percent. But students did no better on the English Language Arts exam: Last year 31.3 were proficient; this year 31.4 were. ”This is still a transition period,” Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said in a statement. “It will take time before the changes taking place in our classrooms are fully reflected in the test scores.”

Among the criticisms of the test was that it would exacerbate the achievement gap. That’s the disparity between privileged students with greater educational resources in school and at home, who are most likely to be white or Asian, and those with fewer resources, likely to be black and Hispanic.

This year, 19.3 percent of black students scored a 3 or more overall in math, compared with 16.1 percent in 2013. For the ELA test, the percentage changed from 17.2 to 18.6. For Hispanic students, the percentage of those proficient in math increased to 23.1, from 18.9, and the percentage proficient on the ELA test increased to 18.7, from 17.2. The statement included this note along with those scores: “Although there is some correlation between 2014 math and ELA performance and poverty, there are many examples of schools outperforming demographically similar peer schools.”

On the ELA tests, New York City did the best of the state’s five big urban areas. But the results overall were poor, and the “improvements” were often negligible. From the release:

• Buffalo: The percentage of students scoring at Level 3 and above improved from 12.1 in 2013 to 12.2 in 2014.

• New York City: The percentage of students scoring at Level 3 and above improved from 27.4 in 2013 to 29.4 in 2014.

• Syracuse: The percentage of students scoring at Level 3 and above stayed the same, at 8.5, from 2013 to 2014.

• Rochester: The percentage of students scoring at Level 3 and above improved from 5.6 in 2013 to 5.7 in 2014.

• Yonkers: The percentage of students scoring at Level 3 and above improved from 16.9 in 2013 to 18.7 in 2014.

The state also introduced a new category of students—those who are “partially proficient.” They had to score a 2 on the tests. Last year, most people understood a 2 to be failing. By this more generous measure, the percentage of students scoring at the partial proficiency level and above in math increased from 66.9 to 69.6 percent, while the percentage qualifying in ELA rose only from 69 to 70 percent.

The Department concluded by reminding everyone that it is providing $500 million of Race to the Top funding to school districts “to support their work to raise standards for teaching and learning.”

Berfield is a writer for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York. Follow her on Twitter @susanberfield.

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