Opinion: More students are actually making the cut

An eighth grade student with a New York

An eighth grade student with a New York State English Language Arts test booklet. Photo was taken after the testing was completed. (April 17, 2012) (Credit: Newsday/Audrey C. Tiernan)

Parents are slowly receiving their children's scores from the 2013 New York State Common Core tests. Many are perplexed and dismayed.

Here are some real examples, though we've changed the students' names: Simone, who met the "college ready" standard on the Algebra Regents, was not "proficient" on the 8th grade test. Tommy, who previously scored "advanced" in English Language Arts, is now labeled "below proficient." Heather, who was "proficient" in math last year, is now labeled "below basic."

Which score was correct? Last year's or this year's?


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The New York State Education Department argues that the most recent scores are a fair measure of expected learning. We disagree. We think that New York's students are being far better prepared for college and careers than the new tests suggest. Here are three reasons why:

1. Test scores are not the best indicator of college success. Research consistently shows that the rigor of curriculum as well as student grade-point average are far better predictors of college success than are SAT test scores. Yet we continue to elevate the importance of test scores.

2. Students are completing college at far higher rates than the new scores predict. According to the most recent data, about 66 percent of all Rockville Centre high school graduates are graduating from college within five years from the time they leave us, a rate that has been consistent. Yet, only 48 percent of Rockville Centre students scored proficient on the recent Common Core tests in grades three through eight.

This is not unique to Rockville Centre. When you look across the landscape of Nassau and Suffolk counties you will find very similar differences between the track record of real readiness and what the new scores predict.

3. The cut scores for the new tests are unnecessarily high. One of the datapoints used by the State Education Department in the complicated process to set the third through eighth grade proficiency scores for the new tests was SAT scores. But New York's selected SAT benchmark was 560 in reading, 540 in math and 530 in writing. That's a whopping 1630, which is well beyond what is needed for many students to be successful in most of America's colleges.

In 2010, the education department identified two Regents scores as predictive of college success: 75 on the English Regents and an 80 on one of the three math Regents exams. They called this the aspirational measure and used it to identify rates of college readiness. (Although we think performance on a Regents exam is a flawed indicator of college readiness, it is the state's definition.)

So how accurately were today's seniors' performances on those Regents tests predicted by whether they were deemed proficient (or not) using the former standardized tests and cut scores when they were in eighth grade?

We analyzed the test scores of nearly 2,000 students from five Nassau County districts. Only 6 percent of students who were labeled "proficient" using the old cut score fell short of meeting the math college readiness score on the Regents, and only 2.4 percent did not achieve it on the English Regents.

In other words, the former, less stringent cut scores were strongly correlated with the state's measure of readiness. So why are we changing the cut score?

The message is simple and clear. The raising of the cut score, when combined with the difficulty level of the new tests, have unfairly labeled our students unprepared, causing unneeded worry among teachers, parents and students.

Education historian and analyst Diane Ravitch, in her new book "Reign of Error," presents clear evidence that America's schools are not in crisis. American graduation rates and scores on national tests of achievement have never been higher.

We should all be committed to school improvement and high standards. But spending all of our time and treasure chasing unrealistic test scores is not the answer.

William H. Johnson is superintendent of Rockville Centre schools. Carol Burris is principal of South Side High School in Rockville Centre.

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