Elia: 'Progress takes time' on grade 3-8 test scores

by Cathy Woodruff

On Board Online • September 4, 2017

By Cathy Woodruff
Senior Writer

Student scores on state math and English language arts tests continued a trend of gradual improvement in 2017, "but troubling gaps persist" between groups of students of differing economic, geographic and racial backgrounds, according to Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia.

"Real progress takes time," Elia said.

Overall, less than half of New York students who took the grades 3-8 tests achieved scores indicating they were "proficient" in math or English language arts (ELA).

The portion of New York students with ELA scores at or above proficiency rose 1.9 percentage points, from 37.9 percent last year, to 39.8 percent this year.

In math, the portion of students at or above proficiency rose 1.1 percentage points, from 39.1 percent last year to 40.2 percent this year.

Bright spots in the numbers include strong ELA growth for New York City, where a 2.6 percentage point gain raised proficiency to 40.6 percent, which was above the statewide average. New York City charter school students also improved in ELA and math, exceeding average statewide results. Results for students attending charters in other cities, however, were significantly below statewide averages.

Students who previously received services as English language learners ("Ever ELLs") also shine in this year's results. Ever ELL students raised their ELA proficiency by 5.5 percentage points to 45.2 percent, putting them ahead even of native English-speaking (Never ELL) students, who were at 42.6 percent in ELA proficiency.

But scores remained low for current English language learners - just 5.2 percent were proficient in English language arts and 13.2 percent in math - and proficiency remained a particularly big challenge for students in large cities including Rochester, Buffalo and Syracuse and for students with disabilities.

As Elia announced the latest test results, she pointed to upcoming developments that she said hold promise for fostering greater improvement.

New York's Next Generation Learning Standards, up for approval by the Regents in September, are scheduled for full implementation in the 2020-21 school year. Before state tests are aligned with the standards in 2021, she said, teachers should have a chance to "internalize" the new standards and fine-tune curriculum.

Elia expressed hope that next year's shortened test schedule, two days instead of three for each, will reduce test refusals.

"It's important to note that the proficiency rates reflect only the students who took the test," she said. While it's impossible to know how much higher the average scores might be if all those students had taken those tests, she said it would be fair to say "they could be higher."

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