While this year’s student proficiency scores showed overall improvement statewide, local superintendents say that recent changes in testing design and implementation mean those results don’t reflect student performance accurately.
This year, for the first time since April 2013, when the state mandated the controversial Common Core standardized testing, the annual English Language Arts (ELA) and math assessments were untimed and had fewer questions.
In December, the state Board of Regents, which drafts education guidelines for New York public schools, also responded to high-stakes testing concerns by imposing a four-year moratorium on using student scores to evaluate teachers and principals.
Despite those changes, the number of students refusing to sit for the exams — commonly referred to as “opting out” — rose this year, which is another reason superintendents say they aren’t confident the latest data accurately portrays student proficiency.
Across the North Fork, 51 percent of 4,543 third- through eighth-graders refused to take ELA exams and 49 percent of 4,657 declined to sit for the math exams. (Some districts don’t count a small percentage of eighth-graders as refusing the tests because they chose to take math Regents exams instead.)
David Gamberg, an outspoken critic of the state’s current direction with education and superintendent of Greenport and Southold school districts, described the state’s scoring method as inconsistent and said measuring progress between tests is “comparing apples to oranges.”
“Quality assessments,” he explained, “will help provide a pathway to understand what we need to do, but the current system that has been in place for the last few years has not proven itself to be effective in measuring student performance or improving education systems.”
Mr. Gamberg added that since only 5 percent of New York’s public schools met the state-mandated 95 percent student participation rate, he believes it is misleading to use the scores to illustrate student performance.
Scoring for the mandated exams is determined by state standards for proficiency and based on the number of students rated at levels 3 and 4.
In Greenport, student proficiency scores were 24 percent out of 86 students in ELA — a three percentage point reduction compared to last year — and 32 percent out of 71 students in math, down four percentage points, according to a report released by the New York State Department of Education.
As for opt-out numbers, 188 out of 278 Greenport students refused to take this year’s ELA exam and 197 out of 281 declined the math test. Those numbers reflect increases of 7 percent and 3 percent, respectively, over last year.
In Southold, 210 of 361 students — the same percentage as last year — opted out of ELA. But the opt-out rate for the math exam fell by 8 percent, with 204 out of 361 declining the test.
About 37 percent of tested students in Southold scored proficient in ELA, up four percentage points, and 27 percent received proficient math scores, down six percentage points, the report shows.
In Mattituck-Cutchogue, the number of students declared proficient in ELA rose to 54 percent out of 249 students — an increase of 20 percentage points — and 62 percent out of 239 students in math, up nine percentage points, according to the report.
Nearly 11 percent of 505 students refused to take ELA assessments this year and 6 percent for math.
Given the growing refusal rate — and with the state’s decision to reduce the number of test questions and do away with time limits — Mattituck-Cutchogue Superintendent Anne Smith described evaluating the latest assessment results as “challenging.”
“Until the new assessments and standards review is complete, it is not possible to draw any conclusions that would impact our instructional decisions at this point,” she said in an email. “We are creating an information document to explain how we will use assessment results … to determine needs and provide appropriate interventions and supports for all learners.”
That information will also be shared with parents and posted on the district’s website, Dr. Smith added.
Over at Oysterponds Elementary School — which runs a pre-K through sixth-grade program in Orient — eight of the 25 students who took this year’s ELA exam were rated proficient. Last year, eight out of 30 students scored proficient in that subject. As for math, nine out of 21 students scored proficient. Nine out of 26 students did so in 2015.
The district recorded the highest increase in opt-outs among local schools, with 13 of 38 students refusing ELA assessments — a 16 percent increase — and 18 of 38 skipping the math exam, a 15 percent jump.
Oysterponds Superintendent Richard Malone wasn’t immediately available for comment.
This year, state officials said, about 38 percent of New York’s public school students rated proficient in ELA and 39 percent in math. Compared to last year, the report shows, those results reflect a 6.6 percentage point increase in ELA proficiency and a 1 percent increase math proficiency.
“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,” Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa said in a press release. “While it’s not possible to make direct comparisons of this year’s results to past years, I’m cautiously optimistic the changes we’re making will drive improvements in teaching and learning.”
Although Mr. Gamberg doesn’t believe the latest changes have been effective, he’s hopeful that the current system of annual standardized testing will soon be completely overhauled with more input from educators, parents and students.
“It’s long overdue that we take an entire re-examination of this process in order to get to a place where the methodology and the utility of assessing students brings about constructive improvement in learning,” he said. “This current system does not do that.”