In June, 75 percent of the standardized math and English test questions given to students in grades three through eight this year were released for public scrutiny. There was no outcry. That’s because the questions were vetted by at least 22 New York public school teachers before being used and were judged to be appropriate.
It’s unfortunate that 20 percent of students statewide and more than 50 percent of those on Long Island opted out of those exams this past spring. So while the tests were fine, the broad results released by the state on July 29 are practically useless for evaluating classes, schools and districts on Long Island.
That’s a shame, and a waste. The new questions represented important changes by the state.
As a result of the parent and teacher revolt against Common Core standards in recent years, new standardized tests were instituted in New York in the spring. Test results for individual students are more detailed and are released earlier to teachers. The percentage of test questions released has tripled. All questions are scrutinized by teachers before the tests. The tests are shorter, and their time limits are gone. All learning objectives have been reviewed to assure they are appropriate. Strong teaching tools are in place. And the teacher evaluation method that created so much fear among educators and parents, based partly on student achievement on the tests, is in a four-year moratorium.
What the “opt-out” activists could reasonably expect to achieve, they have. So now it’s time to end the opt-out movement.
When a student gets an A, C or F on a report card, it can be difficult to know what it means. Is the teacher tough? Is the school pleasing parents by inflating grades? How are the district and the state doing against others? A student’s B+ average does little to answer those questions.
Results of standardized tests are just about the only measure that equally compares student skills across classes, schools, districts and states. They can show teachers and schools what works, and highlight student strengths and weaknesses.
John B. King Jr., the U.S. secretary of education, is pushing to keep and enforce long-standing regulations that will downgrade ratings of schools that have inadequate participation on standardized tests. That’s reasonable. Schools must show they’re getting the job done. Schools that can’t prove their students can hit the mark on objective assessments deserve to be downgraded for that failure.
The primary motivator to end the opt-out movement might be property values. Low or failing ratings for schools could hurt home values in many districts. Our advice to King is that New York should get one more chance in 2017 to comply with the requirement that 95 percent of each school’s students take the tests. If parents still refuse to let students take the tests, then labeling those schools as failing would be justified.
Based on past results, the state Education Department says the majority of those who opted out this year were students who probably would have gotten a substandard score of 1 or 2 on the tests, rather than 3 (proficient) or 4 (excellent). The Island was built on great schools. No one is going to believe those schools are still great if parents won’t let children take the tests. — The editorial board