Written by Betsy Abraham Wednesday, 14 August 2013 00:00
The New York State Education Department released the results of this year’s math and English language arts (ELA) assessments last week, revealing disappointing results as districts across the state reported lower than average scores.
This year’s state assessments were the first for New York students to measure the Common Core Learning Standards for grades 3-8. Across the state, 31 percent of students met or exceeded the proficiency standards in both English and math.
For the Carle Place School District, numbers were mixed. According to Superintendent David Flatley, some numbers significantly exceeded the Nassau County average while others were disappointing. Flatley said that the new numbers are not meant to be compared with last year’s averages because the tests are completely different.
“The intent is to draw a new baseline on a new set of standards. A comparison to last year is faulty logic,” Flatley said. “The only way to compare would be to see how everyone else in the county did. I feel if I’m in sync with the rest of the county, I’m in pretty good shape.”
In past years, usually a district will either do above or below average pretty much across the board. But this year, Flatley says that scores are fluctuating district by district, grade by grade.
“To have spreads is new for me,” Flatley said. “As I look at the data from colleagues across the county, some tests, some grades did okay; in others, kids didn’t do as well and that’s not the norm. That one grade would do well as opposed to another is new for us.”
The Westbury School District saw a similar trend.
“Some grades performed higher than others,” Westbury’s Interim Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction and Personnel, Eudes Budhai said. “It depends on the level of complexity and assessment. Some teachers may have been more open to the Common Core. There’s a lot of variables.”
The Westbury School District saw an overall drop in scores. Budhai said that while they weren’t sure how significant it would be, the district had anticipated the decrease.
“It was almost something the state education department expected and we know something like this (might) have occurred because there was a change in the assessment that no one was prepared for,” Budhai said. “However, moving forward we’ll be working very diligently to aligning ourselves to the Common Core to improve our scores.”
Flatley said that the district will keep looking at the materials the state education department is putting out relevant to common core, and centering their professional development on those standards. He noted that the district had to reorganize its school calendar last year due to Superstorm Sandy, which resulted in the loss of professional development hours which would have been spent on the new standards.
“I don’t know for sure but that had some impact on our ability to modify instruction on what the new standards require,” Flatley said. “Hopefully we won’t have another reprise of that type of weather and we’ll be able to focus on professional development.” This is the first year the Common Core Learning Standards have been rolled out to school districts in 45 states. New York was the second state (behind Kentucky) to adopt the new standards, which focus on advanced reading, vocabulary, and math application. The
Common Core assessments also swap filling in bubbles with much more analytical and creative problem-solving.
Flatley says that while the Common Core has its strengths, it may be taking away from other subjects, such as history and the arts.
“I think the expectation that kids spend more time on critical thinking is an excellent idea, but my concern about the common core is that it’s focused exclusively on math and
English,” Flately said. “My fear is that this kind of laser focus on common core will begin to sap resources from other important areas of our curriculum. What they’re doing is good but it’s too narrow.”
But State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. says that the standards are meant to better equip students for the future.
“We are making this change to the Common Core state standards because we want every single one of our students to be on track for college and careers by the time they graduate from high school,” King said in a letter on the State Education Department website. “Our former standards did not prepare all of our students for 21st century college and careers.”
Budhai echoes that sentiment, saying that the Common Core serves as a good evaluation tool for the district.
“The Common Core learning standards are assisting us in looking at how or what students need in order to be college and career ready,” Budhai said. “It’s an opportunity to look at curriculum and review what we’re doing and what we want to do in the future so students can be more analytical and think deeper and be more prepared.”
And as they get ready for a new school year, he expects that the district will be more prepared to teach the Common Core curriculum.
“Education is always shifting and changing,” Budhai said. “Teachers are always willing and able to make necessary changes to benefit students. Time was very limited so I am confident that moving forward we will be making strides and that our leadership and faculty will make those changes to align to the Common Core.”