The New York State Education Department released the results of the 2015 Grades 3-8 English Language Arts (ELA) and Math Tests Aug 12. Overall, officials said, statewide, students have made incremental progress in ELA and math since 2013, the first year assessments aligned to the more rigorous learning standards were administered in grades 3-8.
In ELA, the percentage of all test takers in grades 3-8 who scored at the proficient level (Levels 3 and 4) was 31.3 percent in 2015, compared to 30.6 percent in 2014, and 31.1 percent in 2013. In math, the percentage of students in grades 3-8 who scored proficient increased by seven points in two years, to 38.1 percent in 2015, from 36.2 percent in 2014, and 31.1 percent in 2013.
But, statewide, although black and Hispanic students’ progress has remained consistent with prior years, NYSED said those students still face an achievement gap when compared to their white counterparts. In addition, English Language Learners (ELLs) also made small gains in 2015 in ELA and math, but still lag behind their non-ELL peers.
“In math, 21.3 percent of black students scored at the proficient level this year, up from 19.8 percent in 2014 and 15.3 percent in 2013—a six point gain in three years,” NYSED stated. “The percentage of Hispanic students achieving proficiency in math also jumped six points in three years to 24.5 percent in 2015, compared to 23.4 percent in 2014, and 18.5 percent in 2013. However, the achievement gap continues to persist statewide for black and Hispanic students, as well as for ELLs.”
In Rochester, the city school district continues to be among one of the lowest performing in the state. Only 4.7 percent of third through eighth graders were proficient, down from 5.5 percent and 5.4 percent the two previous years, respectively. In math, the district did see a slight increase, with 7.4 percent of the students meeting, or exceeding, proficiency levels, up from 7.2 percent and 5 percent in 2014 and 2013.
However, the difference in this year’s tests compared to prior years, is based on the fact that many students across the state, 20 percent, in fact, decided not to take the tests, in protest of the state’s new Common Core curriculum, and teacher evaluation process.
In Monroe County, more than one-third of students opted out of taking the tests.
Yet, according to NYSED, the tests are still valid.
“Nine hundred thousand children participated, and we have information that can be used across this state to get better,” New York State Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia stated.
“Annual assessments provide important information about individual students for parents and classroom teachers, and allow us to keep track of how all student groups are doing,” Elia added.
The state said it’s also still figuring out how to evaluate teachers based on the number of students who took the test.
But, according to the New York State United Teachers Union, the tests “are meaningless as measures of teacher effectiveness.”
“It would be a huge mistake to read anything into these test results,” NYSUT President Karen Magee stated. “Whether they’re up or down, they tell us virtually nothing meaningful about students or their teachers. Student test scores based on poorly written, developmentally inappropriate Pearson tests, in a year in which record numbers of parents repudiated the state’s standardized testing program by ‘opting out,’ aren’t worth the paper they are printed on.”
According to NYSED, the organization has recently contracted with a new company, called Questar, to develop its state assessments, and ended its agreement with Pearson.
In addition, the state said it will continue to espouse the importance of standardized tests.
“This year’s results show our scores are not yet where they need to be, but we will work to ensure continued improvement,” Elia stated.