Every year in March and April, students in grades 3-8 take New York State’s standardized tests in English Language Arts, Science and Math. But what has changed over the years and continues to change is how these test results are used to evaluate the students taking the exams and how school districts operate.
The tests are required by the 2015 law “Every Student Succeeds Act” signed by former President Barack Obama. The tests are designed to measure how well students are mastering the learning standards that guide classroom instruction and help to ensure that students are on track to graduate from high school with the critical thinking, problem solving and reasoning skills needed for success in college and the workplace, according to a Patchogue-Medford School District presentation given last week at Saxton Middle School. The tests have been reduced from three sections to four sections, and they are now untimed, so districts have discretion to allow students time within the school day to finish.
The results for the exams are evaluated based only on the students who take them and not those who chose to opt out.
For each student who takes the standardized tests, a parent report is sent home in the mail around September. The report outlines a child’s progress and achievement on the tests. The report will also show how students performed in comparison to others across New York and how a child scored in specific skill and concept areas. These reports are different from school-based reports, which include progress on things like homework, participation and behavior.
As shown in example reports, the student receives a cumulative score, and is ranked at level one through four, accounting for students who perform well below standards to well above standards, respectively. It also shows how the child did compared to students within the district and within the entire state. For a test like the ELA, the report breaks down how a student performed on different sections in the test and what each section required the student to do. The report can also be used to start a dialogue about a student’s performance with school officials, and it provides additional resources for parents. The resources can be found at www.engageny.org.
The tests are not used to evaluate teachers or principals. Should a school be designated as needing improvement due to inadequate test scores, teachers and other staff members are included in the recovery process. Educators have been undergoing increased professional development courses as part of the district’s recovery plan.
For the district
There is a complex system of scoring used to measure district success year to year, in addition to the individual student reports. Each student is given a ranking from 1 to 4 based on performance, and those rankings, along with divisions within racial, ethnic and ability-based subgroups, determine the district’s overall score. There are indicators outside of the state tests, including graduation rates and absenteeism, that go into the district’s final evaluation.
Beginning last year, Patchogue-Medford was designated in five of its buildings as a Comprehensive Support & Improvement School, which is given when a district ranks in the lowest 5 percent of student performance. The CSI designation allows for more oversight from the state Education Department and requires the district to develop improvement plans. The improvement plan requires new measures to include parents and students in decision-making; establishing surveys for staff, student and parent feedback; reviewing different types of data; and more.
To be removed from the CSI designation, a school must for two consecutive years be above the CSI requirements or be redesignated after a three-year period. The list of CSI schools is generated every three years, with the next one scheduled for 2021–22.