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Dear Colleagues,

Last week, the New York State Education Department (NYSED) released the 2014 Grades 3-8 ELA and math test results. This was the second time we measured student progress on New York's Common Core Learning Standards. It was an important milestone in our ongoing efforts to support and improve teaching and student learning as we work toward the goal of college and career readiness for all students.


In July, we authorized the Regional Information Centers (RICs) to make available secure instructional reports that indicate whether a student answered each test question correctly and the learning standard measured by the question. These item analysis reports allow for comparisons of strengths and areas in need of additional support at the classroom, school, district, and regional levels.


In addition, we released 50% of the test questions in August, with detailed explanations of correct and incorrect responses. These annotated test questions allow for a more nuanced understanding of how the Common Core Learning Standards are measured on our tests.


This year, for the first time, assessment results were presented based on the performance of all students who took an exam last year (2013) compared with those same students in the following year (2014) at the next grade level. This "matched students" approach focuses on growth in student learning and provides more useful data than an approach that compares the performance of one year's students at a particular grade level against the next year's cohort of students at that same grade level.


There was significant progress in math across all types of schools and districts and all student subgroups. However, the results were flatter in English Language Arts. There was only slight progress in ELA, with variation among schools and districts - even significant variation among schools within the same district. In particular, although there was an increase in student scores New York City and other higher need and larger school districts (e.g., Yonkers), there were year-to-year decreases in our lower need school districts.


In the scatterplots below, each circle represents a school, and schools are displayed based on their 2014 percentage proficient and the percentage of students in the school reported as economically disadvantaged (i.e., poverty). See the ELA scatterplot below.


ELA scatterplot
As you can see, although there is a relationship between poverty and performance, there are exceptions at all levels of wealth. Just as there are schools that perform above and below the statewide proficiency level at lower levels of wealth, there are schools that perform above and below the statewide proficiency level at higher levels of wealth. The scatterplot for math below presents a similar picture.
math scatterplot

These results make clear that those who claim that demography is destiny and that we cannot improve teaching and learning until we have first fixed poverty are simply mistaken. In New York, there are many examples of higher poverty / higher performance schools, and you can view the list at http://www.p12.nysed.gov/irs/pressRelease/20140814/home.html.


This is not to imply that poverty is an unimportant factor - it is extremely important, for all of us. But the idea that poverty or family circumstances outside of school are insurmountable obstacles for teaching and learning is a fallacy. As educators, we should all be active in the national discourse on issues of inequality and how best to expand opportunity for all. However, we must commit ourselves to use the time we have with our students in school as effectively as possible and to do all we can to ensure that education helps to shape a path out of poverty. Our colleagues have done it. Our students have done it. We can do it.


We need to understand the factors that help a school achieve better learning outcomes for high needs students (higher poverty / higher performance schools). Conversely, we also need to understand the reasons why other schools do not perform as well as their demographic peers, despite having an abundance of resources and wealth (lower poverty / lower performance schools). What are the policy, leadership, and instructional practices that produce great results for our kids that can be echoed and expanded across the state? What are the educational investments - from high-quality pre-K to expanded learning time to community schools partnerships providing wrap-around services to socioeconomically integrated magnet schools - we need to make as a state in order to accelerate improvement?


That is our challenge - to understand how to keep getting better. Anyone who reduces students to a test score - or implies that the Board of Regents or State Education Department does - is either cynical or disingenuous. State test scores are simply a common measure of progress - one that can support comparisons across schools and districts and regions and student subgroups. Test scores should always be one of multiple measures we consider when assessing the progress of our students, our schools, and our educators. Test scores are just one component of a comprehensive approach to teaching, learning, and professional development.


There have been many education change efforts over the years. However, any lasting improvement to our schools has always been predicated on teachers working together to get better over time. The role of a school leader is to support this process. Pictures like the scatterplots above can help facilitate the identification of best practices that can guide us along our way.


We have just completed the fourth year of a 12-year phase-in of new learning standards. In eight years, our goal is that the students in the Class of 2022 (this year's fifth graders) will graduate achieving on Common Core Regents exams at the aspirational college- and career-ready level - the level that indicates academic readiness to succeed in first year credit bearing college courses or post-secondary career training.


New York's 3-8 assessments are not "pass"/"fail" exams. In fact, this past year, the Regents' long-standing policy guidance that performance on the 3-8 assessments cannot be used as the sole basis for promotion decisions was adopted in state law. The assessments are an indicator of achievement and growth to be used as one of multiple measures to inform decision-making at the classroom, school, district, and state level. Students who scored on the 2014 tests at a Level 3 and above (proficient) are on track to achieve the goal of graduating from high school college- and career-ready in English Language Arts and Mathematics. Students who scored on the 2014 tests at a Level 2 and above (partially proficient) are on track to meet current graduation requirements (by passing Regents Exams with a score of 65), but these students need additional support to achieve at the aspirational level.


We have done this before. In 2013, the graduation rate for the cohort that began high school in 2009 continued to increase, eight years after the Board first elected to eliminate the local diploma for general education students. Similarly, with proper planning and support, New York schools, teachers, parents, and most important, our students will once again rise to the challenge of higher standards.


Please enjoy the rest of your summer.


John B. King, Jr.
Follow me on Twitter @JohnKingNYSED
State Education Department Awards "Teaching is the Core" Grants to Eliminate Non-Essential Tests
Last week, NYSED announced thirty-one grant awards under New York State's "Teaching is the Core" initiative. The grants, funded through New York's federal Race to the Top grant, will support applicants in their efforts to eliminate locally adopted tests that do not contribute to teaching and learning. In addition, these funds will help districts and district consortia identify and improve high-quality assessments already in use that can be included as a component of multiple measures of student learning and school and educator effectiveness. Awardees include 25 BOCES, representing 257 districts, four large city school districts (Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester, and Yonkers) and two additional school district consortia (Binghamton CSD and Williamsville CSD).

Please see our news release for more information.
Educator Perspectives: 3-8 Grade Assessment Score Release
As the New York State Education Department released the results of the 3-8 Grade State Assessments for the 2013-2014 year, educators from across the State offer perspectives on the value of the data and how they'll use it to inform instructional decisions. A Central New York parent also expresses thoughts on her daughter's experience. View the video here.

Brooklyn Parent Supports Common Core
Latoya Credle, a mother of five children in the Brooklyn public schools, says she has seen how the Common Core is helping them. Credle, an active parent volunteer, says preparing kids to be college-ready is the only way to avoid "shell-shock." View the video here.

Brooklyn parent