In wake of brutal tests, schools react
State waives some remediation; districts adjust focus
CAPITAL REGION Hamilton-Fulton-Montgomery BOCES Superintendent Patrick Michel called the first round of Common Core standardized testing a blood bath.
“Some of my districts were 90 percent un-proficient,” he said, “most were better, but none of them did well.”
Those tests were conducted in April, shortly after the new Common Core was implemented. Recently, the scores came in with 70 percent of students testing below proficient in math and English statewide — that’s up from roughly 30 percent in years past.
Under state law, school districts would have had to provide academic intervention services to all those below-proficient students.
“No district has that kind of money,” Michel said.
Earlier this month, the state Board of Regents approved a waiver to lower cut points for mandatory academic intervention.
Essentially, Michel said, they allowed districts to provide remedial classes to fewer students judged below proficient in the last round of testing, “So we can concentrate on the kids that actually need help.”
State Education Department spokeswoman Antonia Valentine said the idea was to maintain roughly the same number of students in academic intervention services over the 2013-14 academic year as there were before implementation of the Common Core.
“This may of course vary by district, in line with how students did on the assessments,” she said.
Among educators, the move is drawing mixed reactions. Michel for one, was grateful for the lower cut points.
He stressed that area students didn’t suddenly become terrible at math and English last school year. The tests just changed.
Old classes and tests covered very broad subjects, he said. The Common Core required deeper knowledge and problem solving. The math tests involved what he called “word problems on steroids,” which take some time to get used to.
“The Regents’ action is an acceptance of reality,” said Shenendehowa Central School Superintendent Oliver Robinson, pointing out the added cost of expanding remedial instruction could sink some districts.
On the other hand, New York State United Teachers spokesman Carl Korn said lowering cut points sends a mixed message to parents.
“They’re telling parents, ‘Your child is not meeting expectations, but the school doesn’t have to help them,’ ” he said. “If a student is falling behind, I think that student should be helped.”
He blamed the low test scores not on student performance or the new tests, but on Common Core implementation.
“Students had to take the Common Core test before they were taught the new curriculum,” he said.
Rather than simply lowering its academic intervention cut points, he said the state should have just eased into the new Common Core.
Now that it’s installed, he said, students need to get caught up.
Despite his support of the Regents’ waver, catching up is just what Robinson means to do.
Even Shenendehowa Central School, usually a high-testing district took a hit with the new tests. The district averaged 75 percent student proficiency in math and English before the last tests. Now it’s at 60 percent.
“That’s really good when compared to how far other districts fell,” Robinson said, “but it’s still not good enough.”
He said his district will be exceeding the new state standards to get students up to original Common Core proficiency.
“If we just did the state minimum, we’d just be turning out average graduating classes,” he said. “That’s not what we want.”
He said his district is working on a three-stage action plan for when a student seems to be falling behind. A teacher will spend a little more time with a student initially, then maybe bring in extra material and, if those things fail, the student will get extra class time.
He said the lower cut points likely will be temporary.