Monday, May 02, 2016


Test Scores Show a Decline in Math Among High School Seniors

The results, from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also showed a drop in the percentage of students in private and public schools who are considered prepared for college-level work in reading and math. In 2013, the last time the test was given, 39 percent of students were estimated to be ready in math and 38 percent in reading; in 2015, 37 percent were judged prepared in each subject.

In a survey attached to the test, 42 percent of students said they had been accepted to a four-year college, suggesting that the need for remedial courses in college will remain stubborn.

“This trend of stagnating scores is worrisome,” said Terry Mazany, the chairman of the governing board for the test. Mr. Mazany is also a former public schools superintendent in California, Michigan and Illinois and is now the president of the Chicago Community Trust, a large foundation.

“A strong foundation in math and reading is essential to a student being prepared for college academics and for most careers,” he said.

Scores improved for students at the top percentile in reading, but scores in both subjects dropped for students in the lowest percentiles. And the number of students scoring below “basic” in both subjects increased from 2013.

The tests are given to a representative sampling of about 30,000 private and public school students nationwide every two years in Grades 4, 8 and 12. Known as the Nation’s Report Card, the tests are administered by the federal government and are the largest national sampling of what American students know and can do in reading and math.

The lower-grade results were released last fall, and they showed a similar decline in math.

The math tests are scored from zero to 300, and in 12th grade, the average dropped to 152 in 2015 from 153 in 2013, a statistically significant decline. The 2015 average was two points higher than in 2005, the first year a comparable test was given.

Students who scored at the average were likely to be able to use proportions to calculate height, but unable to use an algebraic model to predict cost using a calculator.

On the reading test, which is scored from zero to 500, the average score in 12th grade in 2015 was 287, down from 292 in 1992, the first year of a comparable test in that subject. Students were evaluated on how well they could comprehend literary and informational texts. An average student was likely to be able to make an inference based on details in the text, but was unable to recognize details that were related to the purpose of the text.

The survey attached to the test indicated that those who scored better were the students who took advanced math courses like calculus and read more pages in and out of school. Higher-scoring students also read for fun almost every day.



Race and the Standardized Testing Wars

Credit Jing Wei
APRIL 23, 2016  ::  WHEN the parents of more than 200,000 pupils in the third through eighth grades in New York chose to have their children sit out standardized state tests last spring, major civil rights organizations were quick to condemn their decision, along with similar movements in Colorado, Washington and New Jersey.

Reliable testing results, they argued, broken down by race, income and disability status, were critical in holding schools accountable for providing equal education for all. By refusing to have their children participate, the parents were “inadvertently making a choice to undermine efforts to improve schools for every child,” according to a statement by the groups.

Because the families opting out were disproportionately white and middle class, testing proponents dismissed them as coddled suburbanites, while insisting that urban parents, who had graver concerns about the quality of their children’s schools, were supportive of the tests. Earlier this year, proponents of testing began using the hashtag #OptOutSoWhite — a spin on the #OscarsSoWhite social-media campaign — to suggest that testing opposition was a form of white privilege.

Yet as testing season unfolds this year, the debate is becoming murkier. More minority educators, parents and students are criticizing the tests, opening a rift with civil rights groups and black and Hispanic educators who support testing, like Secretary of Education John B. King Jr.

Their complaints are wide-ranging. They argue that the focus on testing has forced struggling schools to cut back on enriching programs like field trips and arts education. Some view testing as part of a larger agenda, driven by test companies and opponents of teachers’ unions, that seeks to wring profits from education while closing public schools and replacing them with non-unionized charter schools. Others say that the tests are damaging to students’ self-esteem, because students interpret low scores as proof that they are inferior and destined to fail.

Some even suspect that part of the tests’ purpose is to identify future dropouts and criminals. There is a persistent myth that some states use reading scores to predict the number of prison beds they will need in the future. Although there is no evidence to support it, the rumor continues to be repeated, perhaps because it reflects a suspicion in some communities that the policy makers promoting the tests and the companies writing them don’t want to raise poor students up but instead keep them in their place.

While there is little evidence thus far of a major groundswell of nonwhite, urban students opting out of testing, the battle lines are clearly shifting.

On April 15, a group of racially mixed high school students in Baltimore walked out of school and rallied outside the district’s headquarters to protest their state exam, known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. The students expressed frustration over the underfunding of their schools and the lack of culturally relevant courses and said they did not want to take the tests until those problems were addressed.

A group of black parents in Philadelphia who planned to have their children opt out of the Pennsylvania state tests were featured recently on an education podcast called “Have You Heard.” They objected to the amount of money being made by the test-making companies and suggested that schools focused on testing were not cultivating students to be leaders.

“What we end up doing,” one mother said, “is creating a bunch of soldiers that, in order to pass, in order to get out of whatever their situation is, they will follow directions. And we will have a community of people that merely follow directions.”

Many educators and parents say the tests have forced schools with low scores to focus all their attention on basic reading and math skills, to the detriment of subjects like science and social studies, let alone art. Under the No Child Left Behind Act, schools were rated based on their test scores and those that did not improve could eventually be closed. (The reauthorized law passed last year gives states more leeway in rating schools and handling those that do not meet targets.)

Some also say the tests have led to excessive use of discipline.

“There are schools where you don’t get a class trip until after the test,” said José Luis Vilson, a middle schoolteacher in New York City and the author of “This Is Not a Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education.”

“There are places where students just feel like it’s a jail,” he added. “Testing often exacerbates that, to the point that it doesn’t feel like you’re going to school to learn — you’re just going to take a test.”

In a rap video produced by the Baltimore Algebra Project, the youth advocacy group that organized the student protest this month, one singer lamented: “They really using this test to tell what I’m-a be/They probably want me in jail or probably in the streets.”

Pro-testing educators say they are listening closely to the calls by black and Hispanic parents and students for a richer educational experience, although some point out that the era before standardized testing was hardly better.
In a speech this month, Mr. King acknowledged that in many schools “the balance has shifted too much away from subjects outside of math and English — the subjects that can spark students’ passion and excitement about learning.”

As a counterexample, he pointed to Kaya Henderson, the chancellor of Washington’s public schools, who has made it a requirement that all second graders learn how to ride a bicycle.

Ms. Henderson, in an interview, said she believed that, in the transition to the Common Core learning standards, states and districts had not been “as aggressive as they need to be in terms of changing their curriculum and professionally developing teachers and principals to really understand how to teach differently.”

Her own district, she said, spent four years developing a curriculum in which students hone their reading and math skills while studying a wide variety of subjects, including science and social studies.

She added that it was the responsibility of state and district leaders to emphasize the importance of field trips and extracurricular activities and to tell principals that “holding kids back from those kinds of things doesn’t help them on the test.”

“I’ve had to at some points remind my principals that kids should have a well-rounded experience all throughout the year, and it’s not O.K. to say no field trips until after the test,” she added.

But she also said that doing away with the tests would be most damaging to black and Latino students and those with disabilities. “Before No Child Left Behind, there were lots of schools where parents thought their kids were going to great schools, but after you disaggregated the results, you figured out that black kids and Latino kids or special-ed kids were actually worse off” than similar students in less high-performing schools, she said. “We need to know that kind of information. I don’t ever want to go back to a time when we don’t know.”

Sonja Brookins Santelises, vice president of K-12 policy and practice at the Education Trust, an organization that advocates for high academic achievement for poor and minority students, said she had watched the video produced by the Baltimore Algebra Project and been shaken by the students’ disappointment in their education and feelings of marginalization.

She said it was educators’ responsibility to speak to students about testing in a positive way. Ms. Brookins Santelises recalled an experience from when she was a middle schoolteacher, when she showed a student named Tabitha her test scores and explained to her that she was significantly below grade level in reading.

“She said to me, ‘Oh, my God, nobody told me I couldn’t read,’ ” Ms. Brookins Santelises recalled. “I watched how she started to internalize it, and I immediately said, ‘Wait a minute, hold up, this test is not Tabitha. But what this says is we’ve got some real work to do, and I am here to help you.’ ”

If students are being made to feel inferior, she said, it is because educators — from teachers to district officials — aren’t taking responsibility for their own failures and instead are sending low-income students the message that their poor performance is their fault.

She also urged minority students and parents to use the testing data to call out schools and districts that are not serving them well.
But some experts say that, because testing provides an incomplete picture of the problems at low-performing schools, it can lead to policies that worsen those problems rather than ameliorate them. Warren Simmons, a senior fellow at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, said test scores can’t offer policy makers much guidance in the absence of qualitative assessments — of the curriculum, of teacher training, of the support a school is receiving from the district and state.

“Student testing is like using a thermometer to try to diagnose what kind of cancer an individual has,” Mr. Simmons said.

He said he believed that was why there was growing testing fatigue in low-income communities. Test scores can reveal that something is wrong at a school, but not what is wrong or how it can be fixed.
“I think what people are understanding is we don’t need another round of tests to tell us that schools are struggling,” he said.

  • Kate Taylor is an education reporter for The New York Times.

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