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Don’t lower New York’s grade-school test standards

A third-grader at Holbrook Road School in Centereach

A third-grader at Holbrook Road School in Centereach was among students taking part in the state testing on April 12, 2018. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

New York’s largest teachers union says the state has some explaining to do about how public school students are measured on state tests. But the truth is obvious, and it’s the union that is wrong.

Before annual exams for students in grades three through eight began last week, New York State United Teachers published an “open letter” claiming it is unfairly hard to achieve a score of “proficient” on the tests. To support this preposterous claim, NYSUT argues that the percentage of kids scoring proficient or better on the grade-school English and math tests is far lower than that of high schoolers passing state Regents exams. So, the union concludes, the younger students’ results must be wrong.

A good teacher would fail any student citing that evidence to support his or her argument.

The numbers do differ dramatically. About one-fifth of students statewide opt out of the tests, but of the students in grades three through eight who took the tests over the last two years, about 40 percent scored proficient or higher. In contrast, 74 percent of the students who took the Algebra 1 Regents exams last year “passed,” as did 84 percent of the students who took the English Language Arts Regents exam.

Which result is inaccurate? NYSUT said it’s “betting it’s not the Regents,” but the union is loading the dice. The score students need to pass the Algebra 1 and ELA Regents is 65. But that 65 does not signal proficiency. The state says 75 in English and 80 in math indicate career and college readiness, because those are the levels that correlate with success in first-year college courses.

Q. So what percentage of New York’s students achieve Regents scores indicating they are ready to move on?

A. Between 35 and 40 percent. That’s just about the same percentage of New York’s students found to be proficient in the annual National Assessment of Educational Progress, which tests and compares U.S. students. And it’s the same percentage found to be college- and career-ready based on PSAT and SAT scores.

Every reliable measure of the proficiency of New York’s students is in a range far lower than the percentage who pass Regents and graduate from high school. If those were the numbers to trust, graduates would be ready for the next step. But 50 percent of new students at New York’s two-year colleges and 10 percent of new students at the state’s four-year colleges have to be enrolled in high school-level remedial courses. And many employers say many of these graduates lack entry-level skills.

NYSUT wants the proficiency standards on the grade-school tests lowered because the union wants nearly all students to pass to show that nearly all teachers excel. That wouldn’t help kids get the education they need. And it would be devastating in high-needs districts, where cries for resources could be ignored because more students would meet the lower standards.

By every reliable indicator, New York puts about 40 percent of its public school students on the path to college and career readiness. Lowering an array of accurate standards to match more upbeat but dishonest ones would mean ignoring our children’s needs in favor of NYSUT’s desires.

And that’s the wrong answer.— The editorial board