Earlier this week, a long awaited moment for schools and families finally arrived: NYC state test scores were released.
This year was the first year the state tests were untimed in New York City. Despite the untimed component of this year’s test, NYC state test scores in English Language Arts (ELA) and Math showed only marginal gains.
As I was sifting through the ELA and Math testing data provided by the NYC DOE, I was shocked by how low they were. The current citywide pass rates on state exams are 41% for ELA and 38% for Math. However, keeping in mind that standardized tests are by no means a full or accurate picture of student ability, I needed to dig deeper into test content.
What skills are tested on standardized tests?
The standardized tests are developed around Common Core standards, which are a set of benchmarks in English and Math that frame kindergarten through twelfth grade curricula.
The ELA standards target students’ ability to:
- comprehend literary and informational texts
- master phonics and word recognition
- write persuasive essays, narrative essays, and research papers
- Write papers with appropriate development, eveidence and organization
In addition to grade specific math content, the Math standards target students’ ability to:
- understand math problems and persevere in solving them
- reason abstractly and quantitatively
- attend to precisions
- utilize the appropriate tools and formulas to problem solve
Despite the largely negative reaction to the Common Core, I believe that they are a worthy and rigorous set of benchmarks up to which we should hold our students. I am not saying that these standards can be easily or quickly met by all students, but I do think that these are valuable, albeit challenging, standards to aim for.
What are the flaws of standardized testing?
One aspect of the NYC state tests that immediately sticks out to me is their length—it is very challenging for young students to concentrate on an exam for multiple hours at a time. The length of these exams may skew the final test results if a student’s academic performance diminishes over time. Additionally, the high stakes nature of testing causes many students anxiety, which can also lead to lower test scores.
It is important to remember that test results only provide a snapshot of the learning that occurs in classrooms. Critical thinking, creativity and communication skills evade the quantitative measures of standardized tests, but remain a critical component of the teaching and learning process that cannot be forgotten.
So, now what? After test results have been released, some schools may buckle down on test prep for the upcoming school year, others may continue practices that have proven effective. Despite where a school has fallen within the sea of testing data, it is important to remember that a student's educational experience encompasses much more than any single test (or all testing for that matter)—the relationships they build with teachers and peers will shape their development for years to come. It is also important to note that classroom instruction need not be dry and test-centric. Rich, rigorous learning can be facilitated around the Common Core standards. Finally, we must exhibit stamina and patience as we work to improve our students mastery of English and Math.
NYC state test scores are undeniably low. It is vital that we continue to support students’ academic development. Passing these exams should be the floor for our students, not their glass ceiling.