Game-Changing Common Core Aligned State Assessments

Years ago I was an avid softball player, particularly in Norfolk, Virginia where I played nearly 80 games per season on a Class B team in the Men’s Slowpitch ASA Tidewater League. Division games were on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but it was the weekend tournaments which were especially fun. We played in at least one tournament a month, and for the first half of the season, solely at the Class B level. However, our coach would put us in more challenging Class A tournaments in the latter half of summer to improve our game. We had a great coach and consistently vied for first place each season within our Class B league. I remember the first one or two tournaments at class A level to be extremely humbling, but after a thorough thrashing or two, we all began to elevate our fielding, hitting, and concentration. We played better and with more confidence, and though we never took one of the Class A tourneys, we managed to consistently compete for first place within our Class B Division.

When the state released the 3-8 test results earlier this week, I immediately thought back to my old softball team and our first Class A tournament of the summer. Just as in the softball analogy, the level of rigor increased suddenly, and student performance took a hit. It’s not as if the students had lost skills and knowledge, rather, the measures had become much more rigorous. The common core state standards are the Class A version of standards, and our students are now participating (I don’t dare say playing) at a much higher level than before. That is not a bad thing. As we know, people rise up to the level of their competition. In the case of education, the bar has been raised and with that we can expect our principals, teachers, students and communities to diligently meet the new challenges.

Some highlights of the statewide 3-8 exam results in EngageNY’s Interpreting 3-8 ELA & Mathematics Tests, Results, & Score Reports included the following:

  • 31.1% of grade 3-8 students across the State met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 31% met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
  • The ELA proficiency results for race/ethnicity groups across grades 3-8 reveal the persistence of the achievement gap: only 16.1% of African-American students and 17.7% of Hispanic students met or exceeded the proficiency standard
  • 3.2% of English Language Learners (ELLs) in grades 3-8 met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 9.8% of ELLs met or exceeded the math proficiency standard
  • 5% of students with disabilities met or exceeded the ELA proficiency standard; 7% of students with disabilities met or exceeded the math proficiency standard 

Across the Big 5 city school districts, a smaller percentage of students met or exceeded the ELA and math proficiency standards than the rest of the state (although NYC’s performance is much closer to the statewide performance)

Ouch. It’s easy to claim foul, dismiss the data, or pine for the old Class B Standards, but we know our students can and must do better in today’s global community. Since our commissioner of education, John King, has stated the results were expected to be lower and that there won’t be any punitive effects on districts, schools, principals, or teacher ratings, this is indeed an opportunity to analyze, reflect, and proactively respond to the data. With nearly four weeks till the start of school, there is ample time for some analysis and action planning by educators and instructional leaders. EngageNY has just released a tool to help with the state assessment analyses. As illustrated in the figure below, schools can immediately use the data to identify strengths and areas of need.

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 12.13.44 PM

With data in hand, it is possible to answer the questions, “Which questions were especially difficult or easy for students?” “What subgroups of students fared the worse?” “How did students do by grade level?” “Are there particularly challenging standards within a classroom, school, or district?” And most importantly, “What can we do about it?”

Paul Bambrick Santoyo has done extensive professional development for the New York State Education Department in state-wide Network Team Institute meetings over the past couple of years, and I recall his constant emphasis on follow-through after the assessment and analyses have been completed. Taking action is oftentimes the missing part in data analysis. It’s great to know what is and is not working, but the effort is for naught without purposeful action and monitoring. Going back to the softball analogy, our coach had high expectations for his team. He challenged us to do better, and was meticulous in his collection of player statistics. His practices nearly always included specific drills based on prior performance. Now our public schools have been challenged by the new common core-embedded state assessments, and with that challenge comes an opportunity to hit a grand slam by diligently determining what worked, what didn’t work, and what to do next.

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