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Student & School Performance

Politics & Policy

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New York

Before lower test scores arrive, a fight over how to interpret them

Union and city officials are sparring in advance of tough test score news that arrives at a pivotal moment for Mayor Bloomberg's education legacy. Scores due out on Wednesday reflect students' performance on the first tests tied to the new Common Core standards, which aim to get students solving complex problems and thinking critically. State officials have long warned that the new tests would produce lower scores, which they say will more accurately reflect students' skills, and in April, teachers and students reported that the tests were indeed challenging. After the state sent a letter to principals on Friday confirming that the scores would be "significantly lower" than in the past, the United Federation of Teachers argued — as it has before — that the news will undermine Bloomberg's claims of education progress. Chancellor Dennis Walcott called the union's criticism “despicable” and “really sad” during a conference call with reporters on Sunday. “What they're trying to do is politicize something that shouldn't be politicized at all," he said. Instead, Walcott emphasized that the scores should be seen as a baseline against which to measure future improvement. Walcott and Shael Polakow-Suransky, the department’s chief academic officer, said they would not be comparing this year’s test scores to scores from past years. "You can't compare these directly because they're not just slightly different tests, they're dramatically different tests," Polakow-Suransky said. "It's going to be difficult to make close comparisons with old state exams."
New York

State to use a "value-added" growth model without calling it that

State test scores won't count more toward the evaluations of elementary and middle school teachers next year, according to an amended proposal that a Board of Regents committee passed unanimously on Monday. The proposed model, which was formally approved on Tuesday, included a methodology to calculate student growth that was nearly identical to the "value-added" model that State Education Commissioner John King brought to the board in April. Both models add new data points to the formula used to approximate how much each teacher has contributed to students' growth. But under state law, any model termed "value-added" would have required, controversially, that its weight increase from 20 to 25 percent on some teacher evaluations. King's alternative this month was for the state to adopt an “enhanced growth model” that adds virtually all of the same data points but doesn’t have the value-added moniker. Spurning the name allows the state to avoid increasing the weight of test scores until all districts have at least one year of implementation under their belts, something the state teachers union has asked for. "I would have thought that adding all these factors would qualify as 'value-added,' but this distinction was always opaque," said Jonah Rockoff, a Columbia University economist who advised the state on its methodology "If the commissioner wants to keep the weight at 20 percent for another year then staying within the 'student growth' framework seems like the simplest way to do it."