Keep an eye on New York State education commissioner David Steiner, who is gearing up to implement a long overdue reform: establishing a link between test scores and college readiness.
Harvard’s Daniel Koretz, at Steiner’s urging, has been looking at the correlation between New York’s eighth-grade test scores and high school Regents exam scores. Notes the Buffalo News: ”The conclusion: Students in New York State are moving through elementary, middle and high school with test scores they believe to be adequate, but once they get to college, they find they are not prepared.” That’s not a complete shock given the boxcar numbers of college freshman who need remediation once they arrive on campus. But the New York Post’s Yoav Gonen points out what will surely be the most repeated fact from Koretz’s forthcoming study: eighth-graders who score a 3 out of 4 on state math and reading tests have just a 52 percent chance of graduating high school, even though they’ve been told they’re on track.
Let that rattle around inside your head for a moment: A child who is deemed proficient in 8th grade has a chance only slightly better than a coin toss of graduating high school just four years later. “We’ve been calling that ‘proficient,’ ” state Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch told The Post’s editorial board. “We were giving out misleading information.”
Gee, ya think?
The study is to be released Monday, but anyone who has taught in New York in the last several years can’t be surprised. For years, I saw 5th graders come into my Bronx classroom who were ostensibly on grade level yet demonstrated little command of basic arithmetic. That was plenty persuasive that all that glitters isn’t gold.
Steiner’s insistence that test scores should actually mean something is clearly going to rattle some cages, and prompt a long hard look at where school districts in New York have made real gains and where they haven’t. Buffalo’s school superintendent blasted Steiner and his deputy John King last week for focusing on more rigorous tests. ”I think they’re two people who don’t know what they’re doing,” James A. Williams told the Buffalo News. “A more rigorous test is not going to improve student achievement. It’s not going to improve the graduation rate. I think it’s ridiculous.”
I don’t follow Williams’ complaint. By my read, Steiner isn’t talking about testing our way to proficiency. He’s talking about how test scores should be indicative of real-world proficiency. As I’ve argued in this space before, if we’re going to insist on viewing everything in education through the prism of test scores, those scores have to be meaningful and indicative of real-world proficiency. Steiner, King and Tisch deserve all the credit in the world for taking this on.