A new state initiative to track advanced student achievement in high schools has encountered obstacles in the form of missing district test scores, a Newsday analysis has found.
As part of its tracking effort, the state Education Department recently began posting district-level results of testing for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses on its main data website. Results can be found at data.nysed.gov.
Testing results are supposed to be presented in two ways — both in numbers of high school students taking such exams, and in numbers passing. But Newsday's review found test-passage numbers missing for 22 systems out of 99 across the Island, with the majority in Suffolk County.
Put simply, about one district in every five did not have such figures posted on the state's website. Newsday also found discrepancies in Westchester County and upstate.
Education Department officials, asked about the incomplete figures, blamed disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, in part, for the problem. Missing scores were from a 2019 round of testing, which occurred months before the virus outbreak.
"Equity in access to Advanced Placement and IB courses has long been and remains a priority for the Board of Regents and Department," said Emily DeSantis, the agency's spokesperson. "It's important to note that the pandemic forced the rescheduling of some exams, which has, in turn, delayed some districts receiving scores."
State officials added that districts are required to provide information on AP and IB achievement because such data is included in districts' state academic ratings. While there is no direct financial penalty to districts for not reporting AP/IB scores, officials said, a district's academic status might drop from being in good standing without the data.
Districts with missing test-passage numbers included Babylon, Bayport-Blue Point, Bridgehampton, Center Moriches, Commack, East Hampton, Eastport-South Manor, Greenport, Half Hollow Hills, Lawrence and Locust Valley.
Also, Long Beach, Mattituck-Cutchogue, North Shore, Patchogue-Medford, Rockville Centre, Rocky Point, Southampton, Southold, West Babylon, Westhampton Beach and Wyandanch.
AP and IB tests, usually administered in May, are a central feature of the Island's educational system because they are written at a college level and considered a "gold standard" of student achievement. New York ranked eighth among states in AP test-passage in 2019 and has tried to boost its standing.
Local school administrators interviewed by Newsday offered a variety of explanations for missing data, including the fact that dealing with health emergencies in recent months has left less time to take on other issues.
"We're proud of our scores," said Ron Masera, superintendent of Center Moriches schools. "We certainly will be publishing that data eventually. But at the present moment, with everything we're addressing with regard to COVID, it wasn't the highest priority."
Masera also serves as president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association.
Both Babylon and Bayport-Blue Point said they had submitted data to Albany and were not sure why it has not appeared on the state's data site. Eastport-South Manor and West Babylon said they had not had time to provide data because they were preoccupied with day-to-day operations. Wyandanch said it did not offer AP courses because it felt local students benefited more from free or low-cost courses provided through dual-enrollment programs with Farmingdale State College.
Some of the area's education leaders noted that enrollments in college-level courses have remained strong, even in the face of pandemic. It was fitting, they said, for the state to publicize data on course participation and test performance.
"In terms of the state posting this on a report card, I think that is an appropriate measure of accountability that should be available to the public," said Fino Celano, superintendent in the Herricks district.
Celano added that the number of Herricks students taking AP exams and passing them rose in 2020, compared with 2019, despite changes in the test format prompted by the health crisis.
Taxpayer groups have contended over the years that some districts resisted releasing test scores, simply out of concern that lower-than-average performance will make them look bad.
Laurann Pandelakis, a former New York City assistant principal who lives on Nassau's North Shore, said some districts that expanded AP course enrollments may worry scores will drop.
Pandelakis is a longtime member of Long Islanders for Educational Reform, a regional group concerned with both school costs and achievement.
"What they're doing is funneling a lot of students into AP courses who aren't going to do that well," Pandelakis said. "It's an old story."
With Michael Ebert