Local schools use scores as new starting point

Local students’ scores on the latest state tests dropped – in some cases dramatically – falling in line with the statewide trend after students for the first time took tests that adapt to new standards.

Students took the tests in grades three through eight in the spring. The tests were the first to be aligned with the more-rigorous Common Core federal learning standards adopted by most states.

State Education Commissioner John B. King said, as expected, the percentage of students deemed proficient is significantly lower than in 2011-12.

“I want to make it very clear that the change in test scores does not mean that students are learning less or that teachers and schools are performing worse than last year,” King said in a letter to parents. “Proficiency rates – the percentage of students meeting or exceeding the standards – on the new Common Core assessments cannot be compared with last year’s proficiency results since the old scores are from an old test based on the former standards. This is a new beginning and starting point that will provide better, clearer information to parents, teachers and principals about what our children know and are able to do.”

Local educators say the test scores will serve as a new baseline, and districts will aim to improve from there.

Gloversville Enlarged School District Superintendent Michael Vanyo said the test scores don’t alter the mission of district officials, who aim to give every child an excellent education and raise the high school graduation rate.

The test results in Gloversville showed the percentage of students who met or exceeded standards in grade eight English was 19.4 percent in 2012-13, compared to 36.2 percent in 2011-12.

The results showed the percentage of Gloversville eighth-graders who met or exceeded standards in math was 11.6 percent in 2012-13, compared to 46 percent in 2011-12.

Vanyo said the new Common Core learning standards will help the district ensure every child who attends school in Gloversville is equipped with the skills and knowledge necessary to be successful. He cautioned against assuming the dip in test scores correlates to a decline in student learning or teacher performance.

Vanyo said changing to the Common Core standards is akin to changing from a Fahrenheit to a Celsius thermometer – “the number may have dropped significantly, but the room isn’t any colder.”

“The 2012-13 test scores can’t be compared to the test scores of years past because the standards have changed so significantly. But these test scores can, and will, be used as a baseline as we continue working to improve,” Vanyo said.

He said every faculty and staff member at GESD is dedicated to making sure every student succeeds. He said he has no doubt the district will continue to improve.

Greater Johnstown School District Superintendent Robert DeLilli said students are being measured in a different way, and as they get acquainted with the Common Core curriculum, the test results will improve.

The test results in Johnstown showed the percentage of students who met or exceeded standards in eighth-grade English was 26.2 percent in 2012-13, compared to 50.3 percent in 2011-12.

The Johnstown results also showed the percentage of eighth-graders who met or exceeded standards in math was 6.3 percent in 2012-13, compared to 51.4 percent in 2011-12.

DeLilli said the district will analyze the data and create a plan to improve in certain areas.

DeLilli said the style of the test questions has changed, making students think more critically.

He said the state didn’t complete the materials teachers can use to prepare students for the tests, making teachers’ job more difficult.

“Once those are fully implemented, you will surely see achievement increase,” DeLilli said. “The kicker is they aren’t finished, so the modules that schools are putting into place the state hasn’t finished with yet.

“In any major education reform, there is always the low point and major implementation dip and then people start to understand what is expected and start to prepare kids in a slightly different way,” he added. “When that happens, the line will head back up.”

Fonda-Fultonville Interim Superintendent Ray Colucciello said teachers need the study-guide material.

“[Students] were being asked questions that they didn’t have the background on,” Colucciello said. “I think it is critical to get the information because everyone wants to know what they are going to be tested on. Until we have that, it is like just shooting at a target that you can’t see. If they give us the target, it will be easier for us to be on target.”

The test results showed the percentage of Fonda-Fultonville students who met or exceeded standards in eighth-grade English was 37.5 percent in 2012-13, compared to 55.5 percent in 2011-12.

The results also showed the percentage of Fonda-Fultonville eighth-graders who met or exceeded standards in math was 35.6 percent in 2012-13, compared to 76 percent in 2011-12.

“It was what we had anticipated; now we have work to do and will go about figuring how we are going to improve them,” Colucciello said. “We will work together with our staff and parents to reassure the students that we know they are doing their best, which is important for them to know.”

On the 2011-12 state tests, the percentage of Broadalbin-Perth students who were deemed proficient on a given assessment ranged from 47 percent to 68 percent, depending on the grade and subject. Statewide, this range was between 50 percent and 69 percent.

The proficiency levels for Broadalbin-Perth – and districts across the state – were lower on the 2012-13 state tests. In Broadalbin-Perth, the percentage of students deemed proficient on a given assessment ranged from 10 percent to 43 percent, depending upon the grade level and subject. Statewide, this range was between 28 percent and 36 percent.

“Taken at face-value, these numbers are startling and somewhat discouraging,” said Broadalbin-Perth Superintendent Stephen Tomlinson. “But because of the significant changes that came with the switch to Common Core, we have to look at this year’s scores as a new baseline.”

Historically, scores on state assessments have been a prominent factor in determining if a student requires formal remedial instruction, known as Academic Intervention Services. The state is reviewing AIS guidelines in light of the changes to the curriculum and testing, as well as the results of the 2012-13 assessments.

Local educators said while schools and parents give importance to a given year’s test results, the larger purpose of education is making sure students have the skills, knowledge and experiences they need to be successful in life.

“Our teachers and administrators will continue to work diligently to teach the skills that are measured by these exams through thoughtful and engaging lessons and activities – not merely test preparation activities,” Tomlinson said.

Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery Board of Cooperative Educational Services Superintendent Patrick Michel said BOCES will give the component districts training opportunities in the Common Core with math and literacy experts. They will go to the districts and train teachers in their classrooms.

The new Common Core curriculum requires students to learn – and teachers to teach – new skills and ideas, as well as different ways of approaching questions and solving problems. Similarly, many ideas are now taught to students at a different time of the year or at a different grade level than in the past.

State officials say the 2012-13 scores provide a new baseline for student performance based on the changes taking place in classrooms across the state and country.

Education Commissioner King noted the latest scores will not negatively affect district, school, principal or teacher accountability. No new districts will be identified as Focus Districts and no new schools will be identified as Priority schools based on the 2012-13 assessment results, according to a news release.

As in the past, students’ scores on the tests are converted into a scoring range of 1 through 4. Scores at levels 3 and 4 indicate student proficiency, while levels 1 and 2 indicate a student is below the proficiency level for his or her grade level.

Here is a summary of statewide results:

31.1 percent of students in grades three through eight across the state met or exceeded the English language arts proficiency standard; 31 percent met or exceeded the math proficiency standard.

The ELA proficiency results for race and ethnicity groups across grades three through eight showed 16.1 percent of African-American students and 17.7 percent of Hispanic students met or exceeded the proficiency standard.

Five percent of students with disabilities met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; and 7 percent of students with disabilities met or exceeded math proficiency standard.

Levi Pascher can be reached at [email protected]

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