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New York’s Testing Landscape Changes and Scores Get Better, Opt-Out Movement Holds Steady

By Naomi Nix | August 1, 2016

Celebrating New York’s growth in student test scores is clouded by the state’s still-sizeable opt-out movement but in New York City the number of students boycotting remained low while reading scores hit an all-time high.
On the reading exam statewide, the share of students in grades 3-8 who scored proficient rose by 6.6 percentage points, from 31.3 in 2015 to 37.9 this year. In math, the percentage of students who scored proficient increased to 39.1, up one percentage point from 38.1 during the 2014-15 school year.
New York City earned bragging rights when 38 percent of it students scored proficient on the English exam, beating the state average for the first time since the test was implemented under No Child Left Behind.  Some 36.4 students were considered proficient in math, an increase of 1.2 percentage points.
“This has been a three-day celebration,” Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said during a press conference Monday.  “I can’t stop smiling.”
Student improvement was seen across all 32 community school districts in every borough, according to the city’s Department of Education. Black and white students increased their scores on the English test at the same rates — by 7.6 percentage points — but significant achievement gaps remain between students of color and white students on both exams.
New York City charter schools improved student gains and outperformed the city and the state on both the English and math exams. Forty-three percent of city charter school students scored proficient on the English exam, up from 29.3 percent during the 2014-15 school year, while 48.7 percent passed the math exam in 2016, up from the 44.2 in 2015.
Success Academy was an even bigger outlier, with 94 percent of its students passing the math exam and 82 percent passing the English test, according to the network’s own analysis.
“I am incredibly proud of Success Academy’s hard-working and talented educators, our scholars who have pushed themselves to new heights of understanding, and our parents who make sure they never give up,” founder and CEO Eva Moskowitz said in a statement. “But we must continue our work with even greater urgency. There are almost 17,000 students on the Success wait list and our city’s immense educational suffering is fundamentally unjust.”
Asked about charter schools’ test results Mayor Bill de Blasio and Farina, who have sparred with Moskowitz over the expansion of charter schools into district buildings, said they were happy that any city students were making gains.
“We’re all in this together,” de Blasio said.  “We’re thrilled to see schools of all kinds improve.”
State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said clear comparisons of this year’s scores to last were affected by changes made to the testing, including reducing the number of questions and giving students unlimited time in some cases. Tying the results to teacher evaluations was also delayed until 2019.
Those adjustments were made largely as concessions to parents and educators deeply unhappy with the intensity and length of the standardized tests, which had been made harder by the Common Core standards. An unprecedented 20 percent of students sat out the tests last year. That number rose slightly this year to 21 percent. New York City traditional public schools went from 1.8 percent for those boycotting the math test to 3 percent and from 1.4 percent on the ELA to 2.4 percent.
“If that exam is timed or untimed, if that exam has lots of questions or fewer questions, that’s not really the problem,” said Columbia University professor Jonah Rockoff  “I think the opt-out movement, in places where it has had success, is unlikely to turn back in the face of incremental changes to the test.”
Board of Regents Chancellor Betty A. Rosa, whose support for the opt-out movement has put her at odds with Elia and Farina, sees educational value in the testing revisions.
“I’ve always said that tests must be diagnostic, valid and reliable while providing timely and practical information to parents and teachers. We made important changes to the assessments this year and we’re going to continue to look at ways to make them even better moving forward,” Rosa said in a statement announcing the results.  “I’m cautiously optimistic the changes we’re making will drive improvements in teaching and learning.”
Disclosure: The 74’s Editor-in-Chief Campbell Brown serves on the board of Success Academy.
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