Skeptical about test scores

A headline in Newsday last week pointed to the fact that parents are upset that some school districts have yet to send home students’ scores on last year’s assessments. I was relieved because we posted our students’ scores the previous Friday. So Jericho parents have access to this information. If you are paying attention to these scores, or are upset about your child’s scores, I hope you will allow me the opportunity to put them into some perspective.

I view these test scores with a great deal of skepticism, to say the least. I’m pretty good at math (in fact, never let your child hear you say you’re not good at math, even if you’re actually bad at math… doing so gives them permission to “not be good at math”) but I will yield the finely tuned analysis of problems with the New York State assessments to colleagues with a better statistical sense than I possess. Sean Feeney, the principal at Wheatley High School, someone who I like and admire greatly, wrote an excellent piece for the Washington Post that I recommend you read.

Carol Burris, the principal at Southside High School in Rockville Centre, has written a great deal on the subject as well. She and Dr. Feeney authored a letter to the Commissioner which I co-signed along with thousands of other administrators, teachers, parents and any number of other people who care about education. It explicates the problems with the state’s system of testing and evaluation of teachers but more importantly, presents very common sense and reasonable suggestions for improvement. Needless to say the state has not adopted these recommendations.

I attended a meeting of the Nassau County Middle Level Principals Association recently at which Dr. Burris spoke. Because Carol is such a charismatic and engaging school leader, I truly understood the essential problems with the way the state has set the bar for student achievement.

You can read more about this in an article published in the Washington Post by Dr. Burris. Here is an over simplification: New York State Education Department (NYSED) is concerned that students are not college and career ready. So NYSED wants to figure out what scores on the assessment would predict students being ready for college and careers. They look at students in college who earn a grade of B-. Then, they look at the SAT scores earned by students who achieved this grade of B-. What scores did these students get on the assessments they took when they were in grades three through eight in math and English language arts? NYSED uses an SAT cutoff of 1630 to determine their current scores for proficiency on the assessments; that is, to predict which students are going to be college and career ready.

Did you earn a 1630 or above on the SAT exam? (Okay, I know that many of you are raising your hand “yes” to this question, nobody likes a show-off). Burris points out that only 43% of students score above this threshold on the SAT. All I can say is, I know many talented, intelligent, and charming people who thrived in terrific colleges, earned high grades, and experience tremendous success in their lives despite having scored below a 1630 on their SATs. Not to mention all that takes place between fourth grade and college that influences students’ college grades and their SAT scores.

The most compelling truth to be considered: NYSED sets the cut scores for the proficiency levels on the assessments AFTER students take the test. That’s like drawing the bull’s-eye and the target around the dartboard after the darts have been thrown. This fact alone should make you skeptical.

You should know and stay informed about this. There have been legislative hearings across New York State sponsored by Sen. Flanagan who is the chair of the New York State Legislative Committee on Education. The Commissioner of Education, John King, is also hosting hearings. Everyone who cares about education should stay informed about these important issues and have their voices heard.

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About dfgately

Middle School Principal Jericho, NY
This entry was posted in Educational Focus, Reflections. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Skeptical about test scores

  1. Dear Mr. Gately,
    I understand your skepticism regarding the absolute scores on the tests. If the ‘bar is raised’ there is no surprise that ratings will be lower. Presumably the relative rankings, e.g., percentile scores, should be largely unaffected, which is arguably of greater importance. I will keep this in mind when looking at scores. The use of a common bar across the country (wherever it is placed) also permits meaningful rankings of CC metrics across the country. Of course, CC scores are not all there is to the quality of education. As the name suggests, CC is only (intended to be) the core part of an education that is common to all, and only measures what can be captured in a test – but this does not mean it is without value.
    I can understand how SAT scores and CC scores are a meaningful part of a ‘college readiness’ measure. I don’t think we should deny this. However, these scores do not capture everything of course. Grades as also important as well as academically related extracurricular activities, the families’ attitude towards education, and a genuine interest in a topic.
    It seems to me that a CC score can be a good metric if we understand what it can and cannot tell us. Where to set the bar (or the need to have a bar at all) is a more complicated question in my mind.
    Could you please provide a link the “letter to the Commissioner” mentioned in your Blog above?
    Thanks for the discussion.

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