In April, Rye City School District students in grades 3-8 took the first English Language Arts (ELA) and Math tests based on the State’s new Common Core Curriculum.
By Tom McDermott
In April, Rye City School District students in grades 3-8 took the first English Language Arts (ELA) and Math tests based on the State’s new Common Core Curriculum. The results were released to the media August 6 and on a New York State Department of Education website, where, armed with a certain amount of patience and fortitude, parents and other interested parties can see the results in detail. Another site, entitled “engageNY,” includes performance level descriptions, with a banner below exclaiming “Our Students. Their Moment.”
Well, maybe not just yet.
Overall, 31 percent of New York State students were proficient in both ELA and Math. While some observers could describe Rye’s test results as best in class, others might just as validly call them less than stellar. It’s true that Rye’s overall proficiency or “passing” rate of about 69 percent was above that of peer schools in Bronxville, Byram Hills, Chappaqua, Edgemont, and Scarsdale. But, it also means that in all of those perennial high achieving school districts more than 30 percent of students had less than proficient scores.
And, what about Rye’s neighbors Harrison, Port Chester, Blind Brook, and Rye Neck? Their overall proficiency rates were 47, 18, 65, and 59 percent respectively.
If you’re thinking that Port Chester’s overall result is a typo, think again. Sadly, our larger neighbor’s results rank along with Yonkers’ as some of the lowest in New York State.
But, if you’re State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. or Rye’s Superintendent Dr. Frank Alvarez, we shouldn’t be looking at these first Common Core test results as some kind of glass half-full, half-empty exercise. Instead, they would counsel parents, teachers, and interested observers that these results merely set a new baseline to measure against as the Common Core Curriculum moves forward. That said, Dr. Alvarez remarked that “the scores were surprising in that they included more Level 1 and 2 results than usual,” referring to the two less- than-proficient state levels.
According to the School District, parents of Rye students will have to wait until late September to see their children’s results. School Board Chair Laura Slack explained that the test results must be analyzed “in a very granular way, since there are twelve different tests, different schools, different teachers, and that requires time.”
Here are some questions the District might be asking as they drill down though the results. Why did nearly 80 percent of middle school sixth graders test proficient or above in Math, while fewer than 60 percent of eighth graders did? Why were 46 and 66 percent of Midland and Osborn third graders, respectively, proficient in Math, while at Milton 79 percent were? What enabled over 77 percent of Milton students to be proficient or above overall, almost ten points higher than the District as a whole? And, why would Middle School ELA results descend from 71 percent proficient in sixth grade to 69 and 63 percent in seventh and eighth?
When parents do receive individual student’s results, they may also have to take Remedial Test Score Assessment 101 before trying to decide how their child performed on the tests. But, here’s a snapshot of what to look for: The Scale Score is the number of points earned on the test; each student’s score is assigned to one of four possible levels established by the state; levels 1 and 2 represent below or well below proficiency, and Levels 3 and 4 describe proficient or above proficient. Overall District scores mentioned above refer to percent of students being in Levels 3 or 4, or what could be called “passing.”
Common Core Curriculum, it turns out, is uncommonly hard, and this is just the beginning of what educators who favor the new standards believe is a great leap forward, not only for New York State schools, but those of 44 other states that have adopted it. Those who do not favor it point to the April test scores as proof that Common Core proponents are taking a “shoot first, aim later” approach that shortchanges teachers on proper training.
The School District will now have to grapple with what, in effect, is a mandate from the state and federal education departments to improve overall performance levels, in addition to the existing tax cap and mandated benefits payments.
It would seem that the School District, teachers, parents, and students will have to come up with an algorithm to solve that problem together in a very creative way.