The New York State Education Department (NYSED) threw a loop into standardized testing on Wednesday, July 28, by dramatically increasing the score needed to meet math and English language arts (ELA) standards for the 2009-2010 school year. As a result, the percentage of students rated proficient dropped dramatically – in the Mamaroneck School District, in Westchester County and across New York State.
The “cut scores” were raised because of concerns that teacher and student familiarity with the format and content of the tests was leading to better scores each year without a related improvement in the ability of the students to succeed at the high school or college level. (See the announcement from the New York Board of Regents.)
The new pass levels apply to tests administered and graded months ago – so districts have known the scores for each student. However, they have not known how to interpret these marks. Last year, a student scoring above 650 on a test was considered proficient in a subject. This year, with the new bench marks, the score needed to pass ranged from 662 to 684, depending on the subject and grade level.
With the new grading system coming so late, districts are scrambling to respond and get mandated remedial programs in place for the many students who have suddenly been designated as not proficient in math and/or reading.
On Thursday afternoon, July 29, the Mamaroneck schools issued a brief release indicating the district will be taking a measured approach to the situation and will spend “the next several weeks reviewing the data and developing a plan for meeting and exceeding the new standards.”
According to the release, the district’s newly installed superintendent, Dr. Bob Shaps, who “spent many years as a superintendent in Massachusetts, which has the highest standards relative to any other state, says he understands the Board of Regents’ rationale for increasing proficiency standards.”
“The State modifications are consistent with the district’s initiatives, which aim to offer more rigorous programs and assessments,” said Dr. Shaps. “Our goal should be to strive to do better all of the time and work towards proficiency for all students. We must not react to this new set of guidelines, but rather review and understand the results so we can address the range of issues/challenges directly impacting our approach to teaching and learning for the next several years.”
What Do the New Cut-Offs Mean For Mamaroneck?
The impact of raising the mark needed to pass can be seen by dipping into a sample of test scores for Mamaroneck available through the NYSED data files. For grade 4, for example, the percentage of students rated proficient was above 85% in the past four years, with a high of 90% last year. As shown in Table 1, with the new cut-off this year, only 80% of fourth graders met the standard – a drop of 10%.
In math, the proficiency rate in Mamaroneck has been over 90%, with a high of 96% last year. This year, only 81% passed the test – a 15 point decrease.
Across Westchester County, the decrease has been even larger than it was in Mamaroneck, widening the gap between local scores and the county average. From 2006-2009, Mamaroneck fourth graders outperformed the Westchester County average by4-6% in English and 2-8% in math. This year, Mamaroneck surpassed the county average by 13% in English and 9% in math.
2006-2010 Grade 4 Proficiency Rates: Mamaroneck and Westchester County*
There are similar results found for grade eight (see below). The new benchmarks lowered the pass rates for ELA in Mamaroneck – from 90% last year to 74% this year. Westchester averages showed an equally large drop and are 14 points lower than Mamaroneck’s.
In math, Mamaroneck scores fell from 95% last year to 79% this year. Westchester averages are 17 points lower.
2006-2010 Grade 8 Test Scores: Mamaroneck and Westchester County*
In addition to the percentage of students rated proficient, NYSED reports on the average test score. A look at those scores (in parentheses in Tables 1 and 2) shows that they haven’t changed much over the past five years. The score went up or down a few points each year except in grade 8 math, where there was a 16 point increase from 2008 to 2009.
So what’s a Mamaroneck parent or taxpayer to think? Obviously, local schools have not suddenly deteriorated since last year. Test scores, as opposed to proficiency percentages, have not changed much. On the other hand, NYSED is suggesting that the schools are not doing as well as recent test scores might have led everyone to believe.
*Charts are based on NYSED data as compiled by the Journal News.