After Hurricane Sandy, the school board asked Weiss to petition the state to allow storm-affected communities to delay the implementation of the new tests for another year. Trustees insisted that holding students to the demanding standards while they were still recovering from the storm was unfair, would not produce accurate results and would therefore negatively affect teacher evaluations. The state denied the request.
Passing rates on most tests ranged from 25 to 50 percent, far below the 70, 80 and even 90 percent passing rates most Long Island districts had enjoyed for years.
State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. said that the lower scores do not necessarily reflect a drop in performance, but instead are an indication of increased expectations. “I understand these scores are sobering for parents, teachers and principals,” he said. “It’s frustrating to see our children struggle.”
King added that the scores should be seen as a benchmark indicating how much progress needs to be made to develop more knowledgeable and skillful students who can be competitive in the 21st century.
School officials cautioned parents not to agonize over the results. Weiss explained that the scores are a poor measurement of a student’s progress. “Moving abruptly to a new standard that’s radically different from the one we had is something that sends the wrong message to students that have experienced growth,” he said. “So if a student has experienced growth over the course of the year, and they’re doing better than they did last year, and then you say, ‘No, we’ve changed the mark,’ that hurts, and may not be the best kind of feedback to get.”
Weiss explained that the state is set to produce alternate test scores based on the previous standards, so that parents and teachers can have a more accurate measure of student achievement.
That’s not to say, however, that the district isn’t taking the new standards seriously. School officials are examining the test results to determine the district’s strengths and weaknesses.
The district is required to provide Academic Intervention Services for students who score below the proficiency level on the exams, and given the new results, many more students will need additional instruction. Kenneth Graham, the district’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, said that he and the principals are working on scheduling more AIS classes and services to make sure students have the support they need.
Graham said that because Long Beach’s scores showed improvement in some areas of assessment, he believes that some of the curriculum revisions the administration made last year were effective. He pointed out that Long Beach improved its ranking in Nassau County in eight of the exams, including third-grade math and eighth-grade ELA. And school board Trustee Roy Lester said that Long Beach’s overall standing among the 56 districts in Nassau County improved by more than 5 percent from the previous year. Graham said that this information will be used to tailor professional development goals and to identify changes that need to be made to curriculum and in the classroom.
“Last year we were in a recovery year,” Weiss said. “This year we’re in a restart year, and I think part of that is focusing on where we are with instruction and how we can improve instruction. The ultimate outcome, what students need to be able to do, has to drive our expectations and therefore the curriculum.”