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Around One-Third of N.Y. Students Pass Year 3 Common Core Exams

(AP Photo/Mike Groll)

New York State Education officials said there’s some improvement in the Common Core related Math and English tests taken by third through eighth graders this year, but admit that two-thirds of the students who took the test are still, essentially, failing the exams.

Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, who just began her job in July, put the best face on data that shows student test scores in third through eighth grade math and English tests have made just “incremental” progress in year three of the state’s implementation of the Common Core learning standards.

“I’m pleased to say that our numbers are moving in the right direction,” she said.

Elia said a 7 percent increase in students passing the math tests, to a 38 percent passage rate, is a “modest gain,” but, under questioning by reporters, admitted she is not thrilled that the percentage of students passing the English exams remains stuck at around 31 percent, and that around two thirds of the students are still considered to be performing below or well below the standards.

“Sure, I would have liked them to be greater growth,” Elia said. “Am I disappointed that they’re not? Yes.”

But she said she knows a big change in standards, as has occurred under Common Core, takes time.

New York City students did better on the tests than their upstate counterparts in large urban districts. Black and Hispanic students generally did worse on the tests. Overall, students at richer schools did better than those at poorer ones. Elia says more focus on early childhood education could help improve the scores in the future.

The growing "Opt-Out" movement had a big impact on the exams. Education officials said 20 percent of children statewide boycotted the tests. Elia said she’s talking to federal education officials about whether there will be sanctions against school districts where a large number of students skipped the tests. The federal government has the power to withhold funding for schools. She did not offer an opinion on whether there should be penalties for the schools. And she said she and other education leaders need to convince parents and teachers who have doubts about the validity of the tests.

“We’ve got to do a better job,” she said.

The test scores will be used to evaluate teachers. Under a new plan pressed by Governor Andrew Cuomo and adopted by the state legislature as part of the budget, half of a teacher’s performance review could be based on how well the students do on the exams. It could be more difficult to complete the teacher reviews at schools where many kids missed the tests.

The teacher’s union, New York State United Teachers, called the test results “meaningless.”

“They aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on,” said NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn. “These test results are not reliable, valid, or accurate indicators of either student learning or teacher effectiveness.”

Elia counters that there’s still valuable data from the 900,000 students who did take the exams.

“It’s disingenuous to just say automatically that these test aren’t worth anything,” she said.

Elia said the state has contracted with a new testing design company, and she hopes to make a fresh start with teachers, letting them have more say in how the exams are written.

Korn, said the teachers in the union also have hopes that they will have more input into the next set of exams

The new commissioner said despite the problems, she remains committed to higher standards- but she is conducting a comprehensive review of the Common Core standards and how New York handled their implementation.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.