Did NYSED Manipulate Test Scores to Boost Proficiency? Parents Demand Explanation of Anomalies in State Test Data and the Immediate Release of Suppressed Test Information

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  August 5, 2016
NYS Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE) www.nysape.org
More information contact:
Lisa Rudley (917) 414-9190
Kevin Glynn (631) 291-2905
Bianca Tanis (845) 389-0722
Email: nys.allies@gmail.com
              
Did NYSED Manipulate Test Scores to Boost Proficiency? Parents Demand Explanation of Anomalies in State Test Data and the Immediate Release of Suppressed Test Information

New data reveals that the percentage of raw points necessary to achieve a proficient performance (level 3) were lower on eleven out of the twelve 2016 NYS Common Core tests.
 
After analyzing the raw score to scaled score conversion charts that NYSED provides, advocates are asking whether NYSED has manipulated the raw score to scale score conversion in order to increase proficiency rates this year​ as the department did in the past under former NYS Commissioner of Education, Richard Mills.
 
While Commissioner Elia can factually claim that the “cut scores” have not changed this year, the percentage of raw points (also called raw scores) needed to receive a scale score associated with proficient performance were lowered across the board.


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​An analysis provided by ​Michael O’Donnell of the New Paltz Board of Education as well as the chart below form the basis for concern.
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Slight, annual changes in the raw scores required to achieve a given scale score are to be expected.  This is a process called “equating,” which is routinely used in the administration and scoring of all standardized tests to reflect fluctuations in test difficulty. Compared to the implementation of Common Core-based state tests in 2013, however, the 2016 conversion charts show atypically large decreases in the raw scores required to be deemed proficient, especially in math. This could indicate that the 2016 tests were significantly more difficult than previous years. However, Commissioner Elia has repeatedly stated that the content of the 2016 tests was comparable to previous years in terms of rigor.
 
The use of test scores for high stakes accountability decisions makes test scores vulnerable to manipulation ​in order to serve political purposes. Maintaining the same “cut scores” from year to year while artificially decreasing the number of raw points needed achieve a scale score in the proficient performance range could result in inflated passing rates.
 
Given NYSED’s attempt to increase passing rates through the practice of untimed assessments and the State’s failure to maintain any data on the number, demographics, and performance of students who availed themselves of additional time, the state is admittedly unable to attribute or explain any increases in scores.
 
Michael O’Donnell, public school parent and New Paltz Board of Education member 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.”
 
“The State seems to be doing everything it can to convince parents that these tests and the flawed standards they are based on are educationally sound. Year after year, 60 percent of our children are labeled as failing when we know this is simply not true. Increases in test scores based on inappropriate standards are meaningless, even more so if they have been manipulated to placate the public. We demand fully funded schools, equitable learning opportunities for our children, and an end to test and punish policies,” said Johanna Garcia, NYC parent and Co-President of District 6 President’s Council.
 
“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. Politicians gained new talking points, but students lost meaningful classroom time and schools are targeted for punishment because of flawed tests,” said Kevin Glynn, Long Island educator and public school parent.
 
Eileen Graham, Rochester public school parent and founder of Black Student Leadership said, “These exams have always negatively affected students, schools, and districts. As a black parent, I’m not satisfied with Commissioner Elia’s claims that the changes as they relate to black and Hispanic students are improvements or have created a different experience for this population. It seems she is using that narrative to appease and “trick” the community into believing things got better for the most vulnerable students. This is nonsense and in my opinion, patronizing.”
 
“The only question is how much the level of distortion goes up each year. Since Common Core-aligned testing began in 2013, SED and test publisher Pearson have depended on keeping information about the construction and quality of the exams hidden from independent review. Given all that has gone wrong over the last four years, it’s no wonder they want to operate in the dark,” said Fred Smith, testing specialist and former administrative analyst for New York City public schools.
 
NYSAPE demands the public release of all state test analysis data from 2013-2016 and urges NYSED to account for the unprecedented lowering of the raw scores aligned with proficiency. These anomalies must be explained by Commissioner Elia if the State continues to maintain that state test scores are valid and reliable.
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