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State Education Department raises the bar for student achievement

New “cut scores” could mean a dip in test scores for districts across the state

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Call the Superintendent's Office at (518) 695-3255, ext. 3242 for more information on this article.

July 20, 2010

During the week of July 26, 2010, the New York State Education Department (SED) will release test scores for the grades 3 through 8 math and English language arts exams that were administered to students in May 2010. The results will reflect newly adopted procedures from SED that raise the scores students must earn in order to be considered “proficient” in a subject.

“Like many districts across the state, Schuylerville may see a dip in its test scores due to a change in the ‘cut scores’ that SED uses to determine whether students are achieving at high enough levels,” explained Superintendent Dr. Ryan Sherman. “We want to be sure our parents and community members understand how this new scoring system may affect individual student test scores and overall district results before media outlets begin covering the story.”

Under the state’s testing system, “cut scores” are used to classify students into one of four performance levels. Students at Level 1 are not meeting learning standards; those at Level 2 are partially meeting learning standards; pupils at Level 3 are meeting learning standards and those at Level 4 are meeting learning standards with distinction. SED has just raised the cut scores for Level 3, meaning students must achieve at higher levels than ever before in order to be considered proficient.

“Because this change affects scores on tests that were already given, it’s likely that fewer students will be placed in Level 3 when we see the results from SED next week,” Sherman said. “We’re anticipating a few more students in each grade level will move from Level 3 to Level 2 for the math and English language arts tests. If this happens, it means our overall district scores will appear lower, as well. We’ll provide extra academic intervention services to students who are affected by the change. In the meantime, we’re asking parents and community members to keep an open mind as we work with the state to raise the bar on student achievement.”

Part of a larger trend to raise student achievement
SED’s change in the cut scores for the grades 3 through 8 math and English language arts scores are just one part of a larger effort in New York to raise student achievement. Education Commissioner David Steiner and his colleagues have been traveling around the state over the last few weeks to not only forewarn of an expected drop-off in test scores, but also to share details on the state’s new push toward tests that are less predictable and more demanding.

In a press release on the SED Web site, SED Senior Deputy Commissioner John King said, “The data shows that schools responded to the assignment they were given—they worked hard to help students achieve standards as measured by the state tests that were being given at the time. And more students did, in fact, pass those tests. The problem is that those exams didn’t sufficiently test students’ abilities—the bar was set too low. But we’re changing that now. It’s time to end the annual debate over whether our tests have become easier and to put to rest questions about what it means to achieve proficiency in New York.”

In the same press release, Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch added, “For the past several years, we have seen more and more students scoring ‘proficient’ or better on our state tests. At the same time, however, their performance on the NAEP [National Assessment of Educational Progress] exam—the gold standard in testing—has remained essentially flat. We haven’t been testing the right things in the right ways. ‘Proficiency’ on our exams has to mean something real; no good purpose is served when we say that a child is proficient when that child is not. So we’re improving our assessments by raising cut scores, making the exams less predictable, testing more areas, and making the tests longer. But more rigorous exams are only one piece of the Regents broader reform vision—a vision that includes a more challenging curriculum, better training for teachers and principals, and a world-class data system. In short, we are lifting the bar to ensure that New York remains at the very forefront of the national effort to raise standards.”

For more information, go to the SED Web site (