after all that

First day of state Common Core math tests a relief, teachers say

All’s quiet on the Common Core math test front, for now.

After last week’s state reading tests drew sharp criticism, anxiety ran high as students headed into the first of three days of math testing today. But educators are saying the first day was uneventful — and possibly even easier than they expected.

“There was a little bit of a sigh of relief when they started going through the test,” David Baiz, who teaches at Global Technology Preparatory Middle School, said of his eighth-grade students. “They felt like they were capable of doing it.”

Jose Vilson, who teaches at I.S. 52 in Washington Heights, tweeted just after the exam, “My kids found the test pretty easy, and this time, I trust it.”

And a student named Jessica Lish who has tweeted her reaction to each day of the state tests so far wrote, “The first day of the math state tests was not that hard.” Last week, she said the second day of the reading tests was “confusing and hard to finish” but that the third day was “easy.”

A page set up on Reddit to collect feedback about the math test sat empty this afternoon. Its creator, the author of a blog that criticizes the state’s new math standards, told GothamSchools the page was inspired by literacy educator Lucy Calkins’ rapid accumulation of comments criticizing last week’s reading tests.

Those tests prompted teachers to complain that students were given too little time to answer all of the questions. Today, at least one complained that students had too much time. “Students completed Book 1 Math State Assessment in less than 25 min?” Cheryl Hughes, a Buffalo teacher who proctored eighth-graders today, wrote in a tweet to State Education Commissioner John King that included the hashtag “#LostLearningTime.”

Students and teachers had girded themselves for a challenging math test after months of warnings from city and state officials that the transition to new standards called the Common Core would cause scores to plummet. In math, the Common Core emphasizes greater integration of literacy, tasks that require students to work through multiple steps, and more real-world application of mathematical concepts.

But today’s tests, given to students in grades three through eight, were all multiple choice, and teachers said the questions did not all reflect the higher standards. (On Friday, students will have to provide their own answers to test questions.)

Baiz said the multiple-choice questions focused more on computation than on applying math concepts. “It’s still testing some form of knowledge, but it’s not that deeper kind of math work I was expecting from a Common Core-aligned test,” he said.

“I heard the math test was gonna be heavy with reading. First day didn’t seem too bad,” tweeted OldCoyotesAreUs, a teacher. Baiz said one question had only words and no numbers, tripping up a student who is an English language learner, but other questions required little reading.

“If you were asking me to describe it in one word, I would say it was fair. In all aspects — in terms of the content covered, in terms of the time given. I was a little surprised because I was expecting multiple standards to be assessed at once,” said Joe Negron, who teaches math at KIPP Infinity Middle School. (Negron, like Vilson, appeared on GothamSchools’ panel about Common Core math this month.)

He added, “Perhaps that’s what there’s a day two and day three for.”

ASD scores

In Tennessee’s turnaround district, 9 in 10 young students fall short on their first TNReady exams

PHOTO: Scott Elliott

Nine out of 10 of elementary- and middle-school students in Tennessee’s turnaround district aren’t scoring on grade level in English and math, according to test score data released Thursday.

The news is unsurprising: The Achievement School District oversees 32 of the state’s lowest-performing schools. But it offers yet another piece of evidence that the turnaround initiative has fallen far short of its ambitious original goal of vaulting struggling schools to success.

Around 5,300 students in grades 3-8 in ASD schools took the new, harder state exam, TNReady, last spring. Here’s how many scored “below” or “approaching,” meaning they did not meet the state’s standards:

  • 91.8 percent of students in English language arts;
  • 91.5 percent in math;
  • 77.9 percent in science.

View scores for all ASD schools in our spreadsheet

In all cases, ASD schools’ scores fell short of state averages, which were all lower than in the past because of the new exam’s higher standards. About 66 percent of students statewide weren’t on grade level in English language arts, 62 percent weren’t on grade level in math, and 41 percent fell short in science.

ASD schools also performed slightly worse, on average, than the 15 elementary and middle schools in Shelby County Schools’ Innovation Zone, the district’s own initiative for low-performing schools. On average, about 89 percent of iZone students in 3-8 weren’t on grade level in English; 84 percent fell short of the state’s standards in math.

The last time that elementary and middle schools across the state received test scores, in 2015, ASD schools posted scores showing faster-than-average improvement. (Last year’s tests for grades 3-8 were canceled because of technical problems.)

The low scores released today suggest that the ASD’s successes with TCAP, the 2015 exam, did not carry over to the higher standards of TNReady.

But Verna Ruffin, the district’s new chief of academics, said the scores set a new bar for future growth and warned against comparing them to previous results.

“TNReady has more challenging questions and is based on a different, more rigorous set of expectations developed by Tennessee educators,” Ruffin said in a statement. “For the Achievement School District, this means that we will use this new baseline data to inform instructional practices and strategically meet the needs of our students and staff as we acknowledge the areas of strength and those areas for improvement.”

Some ASD schools broke the mold and posted some strong results. Humes Preparatory Middle School, for example, had nearly half of students meet or exceed the state’s standards in science, although only 7 percent of students in math and 12 percent in reading were on grade level.

Thursday’s score release also included individual high school level scores. View scores for individual schools throughout the state as part of our spreadsheet here.

Are Children Learning

School-by-school TNReady scores for 2017 are out now. See how your school performed

PHOTO: Zondra Williams/Shelby County Schools
Students at Wells Station Elementary School in Memphis hold a pep rally before the launch of state tests, which took place between April 17 and May 5 across Tennessee.

Nearly six months after Tennessee students sat down for their end-of-year exams, all of the scores are now out. State officials released the final installment Thursday, offering up detailed information about scores for each school in the state.

Only about a third of students met the state’s English standards, and performance in math was not much better, according to scores released in August.

The new data illuminates how each school fared in the ongoing shift to higher standards. Statewide, scores for students in grades 3-8, the first since last year’s TNReady exam was canceled amid technical difficulties, were lower than in the past. Scores also remained low in the second year of high school tests.

“These results show us both where we can learn from schools that are excelling and where we have specific schools or student groups that need better support to help them achieve success – so they graduate from high school with the ability to choose their path in life,” Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said in a statement.

Did some schools prepare teachers and students better for the new state standards, which are similar to the Common Core? Was Memphis’s score drop distributed evenly across the city’s schools? We’ll be looking at the data today to try to answer those questions.

Check out all of the scores in our spreadsheet or on the state website and add your questions and insights in the comments.