New York Schools Doing About the Same as Always

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The New York Times reports that the passing rate on state English and math exams plummeted this year. Down in the 11th paragraph, here’s the explanation:

New York State said the tests had become too easy, with some questions varying little from year to year, making it simple for teachers to prepare students because each test is made publicly available after it is given. So this year, the state made the questions less predictable and raised the number of correct answers needed to pass the tests, which are given to every student from the third through the eighth grades.

Last year, for example, a fourth grader had to get 37 out of 70 possible points on the math test to reach Level 3 (out of 4), or grade level. This year, a fourth grader needed to earn 51 out of 70 points to reach that level.

Well, that would do it, wouldn’t it? I don’t know how much impact the less predictable questions had, but if you change the passing grade from 53% to 73% you’re going to have a whole lot fewer kids passing. So what about the raw scores? How did students actually do on the tests? Here’s the state ed department report:

The average scale scores on the English Language Arts test this year were about the same as last year in all grades….The average scale scores on the Mathematics test this year were about the same as last year in all grades.

So….nothing much happened. How dull.

UPDATE: Just to be clear, when I say “nothing much happened” I mean only that test scores stayed about the same. Obviously the change in passing standards will have a big regulatory impact, as schools that were previously deemed OK are now deemed failures. This will, I presume, set off a long chain of reactions.

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