SED’s Dirty Little Secret

Tim Farley
Sep 16, 2015 · 3 min read

In 2010, New York State was awarded over $700 million from President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative. As part of the grant, New York agreed to adopt the Common Core Standards (self-identified as “college and career ready” standards), tie student test scores to teacher evaluations, and to implement a longitudinal student data system.

Each fall, school districts across the state receive the grades 3–8 state test results from the previous spring. One of the myriad things districts must do is to identify which students will receive Academic Intervention Services (AIS). Years ago (pre-2011), the scores used to determine AIS were the “performance scores.” If a student earned a level 3 or 4, they were deemed at or above proficiency levels. If a student earned a 1 or a 2, they were deemed in need of academic intervention and they received AIS. That isn’t the case anymore.

As has been widely reported, about 70% of our students statewide have been identified as “failing” the NYS grades 3–8 tests in English Language Arts and math. One would think that the need for AIS would skyrocket and the need to hire new teachers would increase as a result. However, since 2012, the New York State Education Department has released two sets of “cut scores” (passing scores). The scale score ranges associated with each performance level and the scale scores that indicate the level at which students who score below that level would receive AIS.

During the 2014–2015 school year, students who took the grade 4 math tests and received a scale score of 314–340 would have received a “performance score” of 3, identifying that student as being proficient. However, if their scale score was a 284 or lower, their proficiency score would identify them as a very low “2” (scale score range of a 2 was 283–313). This means that a student who scores above a 284, but less than 314, would not be entitled to Academic Intervention Services.

During the 2013–2014 school year, this scenario was even worse. For the NYS Math tests in grades 5 and 7, students receiving a “1” with a scale score between 125–289 or 134–289 respectively, students were NOT eligible to receive AIS. The NYS Education Department (NYSED) defines students who achieve at level 1 as “performing … WELL BELOW proficient in standards for their grade. They demonstrate limited knowledge, skills, and practices embodied by the NYS P-12 Common Core Learning Standards for Mathematics that are considered insufficient for the expectations at this grade.” (emphasis added)

To recap, we are telling 70% of our students they are not meeting the standards and they are not proficient (i.e. — ”failing”), but the schools are not required to provide them with academic intervention services. The reasons for this are obvious: the costs associated with hiring enough AIS teachers to get students to meet proficiency levels would be enormously expensive. Second, if AIS was deemed necessary for the majority of the students in a school, the parents would revolt due to the loss of other academic programming in lieu of AIS (e.g. — loss of recess, PE classes, health, art, music etcetera in order to “fit in” AIS).

In my opinion, NYSED needs to do one of two things to address this issue. The first is to stop labeling our students failures by manipulating the cut scores so that 70% are deemed failures. The second is to pay for the huge increase in AIS teachers, and in a way that doesn’t take away from other meaningful instruction from the students.

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Written by

Founding member of NYSAPE, Elementary/Middle School Principal, father of four children, education advocate/activist & blogger. Follow me on Twitter @tfarley1969

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