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September 27, 2013

With new standards and tougher tests, state adjusts AIS requirements

Proficiency no longer the threshold for Academic Intervention Services

In light of the major changes taking place in classrooms across the state - including new learning standards and tougher state assessments - state leaders have lowered the threshold that determines when a district must provide formal academic support programming to a student.

Instead of Academic Intervention Services (AIS) being triggered by any score below proficiency - level 1 or level 2 - on state exams, new regulations have designated specific scores for each test and grade level that determine when AIS is required. Most of these threshold scores fall somewhere in the scoring range for a level 2 score, indicating that a student is partially, but insufficiently, proficient in the new standards.

As predicted by state leaders, proficiency levels declined significantly on the state math and English language arts (ELA) exams taken by students in grades 3-8 last spring. These were the first assessments based on the new, more rigorous Common Core Learning Standards, and statewide the percentage of students who scored at or above proficiency fell from 55.1 percent to 31.1 percent in ELA and from 64.8 percent to 31 percent in math.

Absent any change in regulations, these results would have led to a dramatic spike in the number of students requiring academic intervention services across the state and in many districts. In fact, even with the changes, the drop in test scores means many districts will still see an increase in the number of students receiving AIS.

The Board of Regents directed the state Education Department to amend its AIS regulations "to ensure that existing support services... remain relevant and appropriate as New York implements the CCLS," according to Deputy Education Commissioner Ken Slentz. The changes to the AIS requirements mean that students scoring at or above newly designated scores would "not be required to receive academic intervention instructional and/or student support services during the 2013-14 school year unless the school district, in its discretion, deems it necessary."

In general, AIS is extra time within the school day in which educators work with a student or group of students to supplement general instruction and assist those students in meeting learning standards with which they have struggled.

Niskayuna Superintendent Susan Kay Salvaggio said that the district will continue to review student performance data closely to determine how best to support all students. Instead of looking at state test scores alone to determine AIS services, the district considers multiple data points, including student progress on more frequent local assessments and on class assignments.

"We always work to provide the right kind of support for all students," Salvaggio said. "In some cases this is AIS, but it is important to remember that last year's state tests were based on new standards that are still being implemented in schools across New York. In many cases, the best place for Niskayuna students is in their classrooms with their teachers. Everyone is adapting to the curriculum changes. Our teachers and instructional leaders are committed to this work. Over time, we expect to see our proficiency levels rise."

The Board of Regents approved the AIS amendment at its September 16 meeting.

To understand the change in AIS, it's important to know how the tests are scored:

Each student's performance on the tests is measured by what is called a "scale score." Scale scores have a broad range, which can vary by test and subject, but were generally between 100 and 425 for the 2013 tests.

The scale scores are then converted into the scoring range of 1 to 4. Scores at level 3 and 4 indicate proficiency (4 is mastery), while levels 1 and 2 indicate a student is below proficiency for his or her grade level by some degree. The term "cut scores" refers to the point where one scoring range ends and another begins.

For example, the proficiency "cut score" for Grade 3 ELA in 2013 was 320. Students who score at or above this level reached proficiency, while those scoring below that figure are considered below proficiency.

The cut scores to reach proficiency were adjusted upward in 2013-14. In other words, not only were the tests tougher due to the new standards, but students needed a higher score on them to be proficient.

Some content courtesy of Capital Region BOCES School Communications Portfolio; Copyright 2013; All rights reserved. For more information or permission to use, call 518-464-3960.