Did NYSED Manipulate Test Scores to Boost Proficiency? NYSAPE Thinks So

Monday, September 19, 2016

According to the New York State Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE), data released this summer on state testing reveals that the percentage of raw points necessary to achieve a proficient performance (level 3) were lower on eleven out of the twelve Common Core tests administered by the state in 2016.

Those who have analyzed the raw score to scaled score conversion charts provided by the New York State Education Department (NYSED), have raised concerns that NYSED may well have manipulated raw score to scale conversion numbers in order to increase proficiency rates.

Under former New York State Commissioner of Education, Richard Mills, it was proven that score conversions were often adjusted to give the appearance of higher achievement.  NYSAPE believes that history may be repeating itself.

Current New York State Education Commissioner, MaryEllen Elia, has frequently made the claim that the “cut scores” have not changed this year.  However, while the cut scores remained the same from 2015 to 2016, the percentage of raw points (also called raw scores) needed to receive a scale score associated with proficient performance were lowered across the board.

Member of the New Paltz Board of Education, and strong critic of state testing and Common Core curriculum, Michael O’Donnell, has analyzed this data closely and has reported to his district that if the scores associated with proficiency had not been lowered, students throughout the state would, in fact, show a decrease in performance on the Common Core based ELA and State Math exams over the past few years. 

In fairness, it should be stated that a process called “equating” is often used in scoring standardized tests to reflect changes in the difficulty of the tests and other relevant factors.

But compared to the charts during the first implementation of Common Core-based state tests in 2013, the 2016 conversion charts show large decreases in the raw scores required to be deemed proficient that go well beyond typical “equating” practices.

The decision to decrease the raw score required for proficiency also goes contrary to statements made repeatedly by Commissioner Elia that the content of the 2016 tests was comparable in terms of rigor.  In addition, NYSED has openly professed its efforts to increase passing rates and overall performance on state tests through the practice of untimed assessments, changes in the amount of questions, and the elimination of questions found to be developmentally inappropriate.

The question remains that if the tests were modified in favor of increased student performance, why would it be necessary for NYSED to lower the raw score required for proficiency?

In completing his analysis of the state testing in New York, Michael O’Donnell, stated, "Assessment proficiency rates, in addition to not being reflective of college readiness or grade-level skills, are now not comparable to previous years' results and have been subject to aggressive manipulation. It is hard to find any utility in these data."

When interviewed by NYSAPE, Co-President of the New York City District 6 President’s Council, Johanna Garcia said, “It is foolish to have a conversation focused on data when 22% of students have opted-out. That is a 10% increase over the 20% who opted out last year. NYSED chose to cure flawed tests with fewer questions and unlimited time.  When that wasn't enough, they lowered the requirements for proficiency in a quest to show progress.”

NYSAPE maintains that the state education department has failed to maintain any data on the number, demographics, and performance of students who availed themselves of additional time, and are, admittedly, unable to attribute or explain any increases in scores.

NYSAPE is demanding the public release of all state test analysis data from 2013-2016 and urges NYSED to justify its decision to lower raw scores aligned with proficiency.

With opt-out numbers continuing to rise, and overall confidence in NYSED extremely low, it is fair to say that there is a considerable amount of pressure on Commissioner Elia to explain this matter if the state wishes to hold on to any sense of credibility regarding the validity and reliability of its state tests.

The New York State Allies for Public Education is a grassroots coalition with over 50 parent and educator groups across the state.  Their website is: www.nysape.org



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