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Only A Third Of NY Students Pass Common Core Exams

NYS Ed Commissioner MaryEllen Elia
Karen DeWitt

State Education officials say there’s some improvement in the Common Core related Math and English tests taken by third through eighth graders this year, but admit that two thirds of the students who took the test are still, essentially, failing the exams.

Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia, who just began her job in July, put the best face on data that shows student test scores in third through eighth grade math and English tests have made just “incremental” progress in year three of the state’s implementation of the Common Core learning standards.

“I’m pleased to say that our numbers are moving in the right direction,” Commissioner Elia said.

The education Commissioner says a 7 percent increase in students passing the math tests, to 38 percent passage rate is a “modest gain,” but Elia, under questioning by reporters, admits she is not thrilled that the percentage of students passing the English exams remains stuck at around 31 percent, and that around two-thirds of the students are still considered to be performing below or well below the standards.

“Sure, I would have liked them to be greater growth,” Elia said. “Am I disappointed that they’re not ? Yes.”

But she says she knows a big change in standards, as has occurred under Common Core, takes time. 

New York City students did better on the tests that their upstate counterparts at large urban districts. Black and Hispanic students generally did worse on the tests. Overall, students at richer schools did better than those at poorer ones. Elia says more focus on early childhood education could help improve the scores in the future.

The growing opt out movement had a big impact on the exams. Education officials say 20 percent of children statewide boycotted the tests. Commissioner Elia says she’s talking to federal education officials about whether there will be sanctions against school districts where a large number of students skipped the tests. The federal government has the power to withhold funding for schools. She did not offer an opinion on whether there should be penalties for the schools. And she says she and other education leaders need to convince parents and teachers who have doubts about the validity of the tests.

“We’ve got  to do a better job,” the Commissioner said.

The test scores will be used to evaluate teachers. Under a new plan pressed by Governor Cuomo and adopted by the state legislature as part of the budget, half of a teacher’s performance review could be based on how well the students do on the exams.  It could be more difficult to complete the teacher reviews at schools where many kids missed the tests. 

The teachers union, New York State United Teachers, called the test results “meaningless.”

“They aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on,” said NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn. “These test results are not reliable, valid or accurate indicators of either student learning or teacher effectiveness.”

Commissioner Elia counters that  there’s still valuable data from the 900,000 students who did take the exams. 

“It’s disingenuous to just say automatically that these test aren’t worth anything,” Elia said.

Elia says the state has contracted with a new testing design company, and she hopes to make a fresh start with teachers, letting them have more say in how the exams are written.

Korn, with NYSUT, says the teachers in the union also have hopes that they will have more input into the next set of exams.

The new commissioner says despite the problems, she remains committed to higher standards, but she is conducting a comprehensive review of the Common Core standards and how New York handled their implementation.

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