New York State testing scores for students at the Bridgehampton School may be down in some subjects, in particular eighth grade math, but according to Principal Jack Pryor the results have less to do with a decline in comprehension, and more to do with changes to the state’s grading system for math and English Language Arts (ELA) for students in third through eighth grades.
Pryor is still awaiting raw data from BOCES on how Bridgehampton students fared overall in this year’s round of state tests, which he plans to present to the board at either their August 25 or September 8 meeting. Last Wednesday, August 11, he presented some initial findings that show both improvement, and declines, in test scores.
This July, the New York State Board of Regents and Commissioner of Education David Steiner have made it more difficult for students to pass ELA and math tests by raising the “cut score” — the raw grade that determines whether or not students receive a 1 through 4 final score.
School districts are required to give students who score a 2 or below supplemental help in that subject area, although the state is waiving that requirement this year for students who would have scored a 3 under last year’s guidelines, but score a 2 under the new rules.
According to Pryor, in 2009 50 students in grades three through eight took ELA and math state tests, with just four needing remedial services, meaning they scored a 2 or lower. This school year, 54 students took exams with 29 now in need of remedial services.
“It’s the same students,” said Pryor on Monday. “And those same students took social studies and science tests and every one of them scored a high 3 or 4. What is going on here?”
Pryor said the class that fared the worst, the eighth grade in their math testing, had 67 percent score a two or below this year, whereas last year the same students boasted a 100 percent in passing grades.
“These are high-functioning students we are talking about,” said Pryor. “It’s the same kids, but the data is skewed.”
Pryor said he is awaiting raw data that will show the actual score each student received and look at what percentage would have “passed” under last year’s standards and present that information to the board in the next month. He questioned the state’s changing of the “cut score,” noting that all school districts have been affected by the change, including Southampton, which has seen an increase of 143 students in ELA and 118 students in math that failed to earn above a 2 this year.
“Everyone is seeing an incredible change,” he said. “But these are the same kids.”
According to a release issued by the Board of Regents, the decision to change the “cut score” guidelines stemmed from a review on how student performance on state tests in third through eighth grades correlates to their performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam, as well as Regents exams and SAT scores.
“If our tests are to be a useful tool for parents and teachers, they have to give us meaningful information — not only about a student’s current level of proficiency, but also about that student’s future prospects,” said Commissioner Steiner in a written statement. “So we looked at linkages and connections, to better understand the signals that indicate whether a students is on track to pass Regents exams and go on to higher education prepared to do college-level work. And it’s clear from our review that some students who scored proficient on state exams found themselves unprepared, without remediation, to do the work required of them when they reach college. We are committed to providing both the tests and the cut scores needed to achieve that result.”
According to Pryor, over the last five years, students and Bridgehampton have shown a steady incline in test score achievement, and despite the state changes, that is what the Bridgehampton School District intends to focus on.
“New York State can change the bar, but we are on a long term path to improve our test scores overall and as long as we are seeing improvement year after year, that is what we are looking for,” he said.
Pryor added that a steady incline in test scores over the last five years does show the student body is achieving at higher levels each year, and that is backed up further by the kind of classes students feel they are prepared to take each year. While just a couple of students elected to take the school’s Advanced Placement Physics course five years ago, this year 18 students are signed up. Three juniors are also preparing for pre-calculus courses this fall and seven students, as of last week, were scheduled to take the school’s new Advanced Placement History course that teacher Henry Meyer has designed for the district.
“We are moving in the right direction,” he said.
In other school news, last week the school board formally hired Jeff Hand as an elementary teacher in the district at a starting salary of $59,474. Lindsey Sanchez was also hired in a part time capacity as the school’s new choral music teacher at a salary of $29,737. Aleaze Hodgens was hired at the same salary as a part-time speech language teacher.