School administrators weigh in on recent state assessment scores

Only a portion of students were declared “proficient” in state math and English Language Arts exams this year, and local superintendents say they believe the latest assessment results fail to accurately reflect student performance.

And since the number of students refusing to take the exams has continued to grow over the past three years, educators say current test scores do not provide a clear picture of a school’s ability to educate youth.

[Related: Did more outspoken leadership play a role in ‘opt out’ results?]

About 25 percent of Riverhead School District students were declared “proficient” in state English Language Arts and math exams, according to the results of this spring’s assessments for students in grades 3 through 8, which were released last week by the New York State Department of Education.

Scores for the mandated exams are determined by the state’s standard for proficiency and based on the number of students rated at levels 3 and 4.

This year, about 31 percent of students statewide were rated proficient in ELA and 38 percent rated proficient in math.

Riverhead Superintendent Nancy Carney described the current atmosphere in education following the latest test scores as a “challenging time,” because she believes the results fail to measure student ability accurately.

In particular, since nearly 100 percent of the district’s English Language Learners (ELL) students and students with disabilities failed to meet state proficiency standards, Ms. Carney said she’s questioning the assessments’ validity.

“It’s not fair to the kids because it’s not showing what they’ve learned,” she said. “[The tests] are not reflective of what’s going on in the classroom.”

The superintendent added that she believes the best way to obtain a clear picture of student performance is through multiple types of assessments — not just the state’s annual exams.

Demographics also play a major role in the district’s test scores, she added.

Ms. Carney has said she believes last year was the first time the majority of Riverhead’s students were minorities, which currently account for about 52 percent of the district’s total student population of over 5,000.

A comparison of Riley Avenue Elementary School in Calverton and Phillips Avenue Elementary School in Riverside offers one example of how the district’s ethnic makeup varies from school to school. At Riley — where 72 percent of students are white, 17.3 percent are Hispanic and 5.5 percent are black — about 66 percent scored below proficiency in ELA and 58 percent scored below proficiency in math. At Phillips, 61 percent of students are Hispanic, 19.5 percent are black and 15.9 percent are white. There, nearly 88 percent scored below proficiency in ELA and 84 percent scored below proficiency in math.

“It needs to change,” Ms. Carney said of the state’s current testing methods. “It’s very disheartening because I see how hard our teachers are working with students.”

In a statement, Board of Regents chancellor Merryl Tisch acknowledged that more needs to be done to assist ELL students and those with disabilities.

“Now we have to make sure those teachers get the professional development and resources they need to help students continue to make progress — especially our black and Hispanic students and English Language Learners who still face a discouraging achievement gap,” she said. “The Board of Regents is committed to providing these resources to our teachers so our students graduate with the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful after high school.”

In addition to the latest test scores, state officials announced that about 20 percent of eligible students across New York refused to take the exams this year.

In the Riverhead school district, about 26 percent of students refused to take this year’s ELA exams, up from 10 percent last year. As for math, about 34 percent opted out, an increase of nearly 19 percent over the 2013-14 school year.

In Shoreham-Wading River, 73 percent of students refused to take both assessments, up from 33 percent a year ago.

About 51 percent of SWR students who took the ELA test achieved proficiency, as did 54 percent of those who took the math test.

SWR superintendent Steven Cohen said about 88 percent of the school districts in the state did not meet the mandated 95 percent student assessment participation rate and he doesn’t believe the recent test results hold any weight.

“The numbers of students taking the tests are so low and make it impossible to infer anything,” he said. “They aren’t useful because of that.”

Dr. Cohen has been calling for the state to create a committee of professionals to visit schools for a few weeks to meet not only with teachers, but with parents, students, administrators, superintendents and Boards of Education — as opposed to just relying on student assessments.

“New York state already does that with respect to school finance,” he said, referring to the state comptroller’s audits of schools and municipalities. “I’m still puzzled about why the Regents won’t consider that model to address curriculum and assessment.”

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Click on the tab below for a summary of test scores and refusals.