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August 8, 2013

Grade 3-8 test scores released in a new era of curriculum and assessment

State Education Department: Results do not reflect a decline in performance, but are a reflection of progress toward a rigorous new curriculum

On Wednesday, August 6, the New York State Department of Education released district and school results for the English and math assessments that students in grades three through eight took in the spring of 2013 – tests that were based on the Common Core curriculum for the first time.

As expected, sweeping changes in curriculum, testing, and scoring practices resulted in a significant decrease student proficiency levels in districts across the state, including in Niskayuna, compared with prior years. State officials predicted this would be the case when the assessments were given in the spring, and continue to caution against any direct comparison of the scores with previous years.

State education officials called the scores a new baseline for student performance based upon the changes taking place in classrooms across the state and the country. The Common Core standards, which are being used in 46 states, were designed to be relevant to the kinds of skills and knowledge that students will need to succeed in the future.

As a result, education officials say that the results released on Wednesday more accurately reflect students' progress toward college and career readiness. The new curriculum requires students to learn - and teachers to teach - new skills, concepts, and different ways of approaching questions and solving problems.

"The world has changed, the economy has changed, and what our students need to know has changed," Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch said in releasing the results. "These scores reflect a new baseline and a new beginning. We have just finished the first year of a dramatic shift in teaching and learning. Teachers, principals, superintendents and school boards have worked extraordinarily hard to implement the Common Core. With the right tools, the right training, and continuous feedback and support, our teachers - the best teaching force in the country - will make sure all our students are prepared for college and career success in the 21st century."


As in the past, students' scores on the tests are converted into a scoring range of 1 through 4. Scores at level 3-4 indicate student proficiency (4 is mastery), while levels 1-2 indicate a student is below proficiency for his or her grade level by some degree.

In last year's results - 2012 - the number of Niskayuna students in a given grade level who were deemed proficient ranged from 77 percent to 88 percent, depending upon the grade and subject. Statewide, this range for last year was 50 percent to 69 percent.

In the 2013 results released this week, the percentage of Niskayuna students scoring at proficiency levels ranged from 51 percent to 61 percent, depending on grade and subject. Statewide, this range for 2013 was 27 percent to 36 percent.

Moving forward, state and district officials expect to see instruction strengthened and scores rise as teachers and students adapt to the new expectations and required shifts in learning.

"We remain as committed as ever to our core mission of ensuring students are prepared to be successful in life, and this means successfully implementing this new curriculum," Superintendent Susan Kay Salvaggio said. "Our administrators, teachers, and students are adapting to an unprecedented level of change in education with the skill and commitment for which they are well known. We now have a full year of experience with a full cycle of changes to curriculum, testing, and scoring. History and experience in Niskayuna tells us that we are right to have nothing but high expectations for the future."

"We'll meet these expectations as we always have in our district - by supporting our teachers, working in partnership with families, and looking at each child as an individual," Salvaggio added.

Niskayuna's academic directors, principals, and teachers will continue to examine the data to identify where instructional strategies should change and the best way to provide academic support to students who are struggling. 

What do the results mean for our schools and students?

While 46 states have adopted the Common Core standards, less than a handful chose to test on them as New York did last spring. The new curriculum focuses on deeper mastery of content and different skills and approaches to problems than in the past.

Similarly, many concepts are now taught to students at a different time of the year or grade level than in the past.

It will take time for curriculum and instruction to catch up with what the new tests measure.

In Niskayuna, the district implemented a new math curriculum last year that was aligned with the Common Core standards. In 2013-14, the district will continue to focus its professional development for principals, directors, and teachers on full implementation of English language arts (ELA) and math Common Core standards.

As in the past, the state assessments do not factor into a student's grades. State test scores are used to help determine which students may need extra help and the best ways to provide extra academic support. State officials are currently reviewing the guidelines surrounding the required extra help, known as Academic Intervention Services (AIS).

Parents of students will soon receive information about their children's performance on the state assessments. Parents are encouraged to reassure children that any test is just one measure, at one point in time, of their academic progress. Students should know that this is a new system for everyone involved, and the tests they took were more challenging than those taken by the students before them. If their score was lower, it in no way means that they did worse in school last year.

While schools and parents naturally put importance on a given year's test results, Superintendent Salvaggio said the district remains focused on its larger mission of ensuring that students have the skills, knowledge, and experiences they need to be successful in life.

"There is ample evidence that Niskayuna is successfully preparing its students for the future," Salvaggio said. "We see these results as a foundation from which to build and in the context of our district's tradition of always working to improve teaching and learning."