In New York State, Tougher Tests Expected to Lower Grades

Now that tougher standards are going into effect in New York State schools, education officials are bracing themselves for a substantial drop in standardized test scores at the end of this year. According to the New York Post, the biggest drop is expected from students in 3rd through 8th grade who will be taking much more difficult exams in English and math this next year. The annual round of testing kicks off in April.

The new tests are designed to determine how closely New York students have come to meeting new Common Core Standards that will be widely adopted all over the country within the next few years. New York made the commitment to implement CCS-compliant education standards as part of their winning pitch for a $700 million Race to the Top federal grant.

Last month, Kentucky, the first of 46 states to test students on the standards, reported the number of elementary- and middle-school students rated "proficient" or higher fell at least 30 percent.

New York education officials fear similar, if not worse, results.

Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the state Board of Regents, says that voicing these kinds of expectations is a matter of dealing with likely outcomes realistically. Tests will be tougher, and even if students are prepared for them, a drop in grades is all but inevitable.

Some, like board member Betty Rosa, are worried that the drop in scores will be most precipitous in lower-income and minority neighborhoods and among students who are learning English as a second language. Another board member – Kathleen Cashin – said that bringing in new tests in both subjects at the same time might be "too much too soon."

One sample question asks third-graders to read a translated short story, "The Gray Hare," by the Russian author Leo Tolstoy. The fable includes the words "threshing floor," "caftans" and "hoarfrost," though the test booklet may include definitions.

"It's absurd vocabulary for that age level and likely to throw even the best reader off," said Jeff Nichols, a Manhattan father of a 9-year-old boy.

"Are we trying to make children feel inadequate?"

The reading comprehension questions will be more complex and will require deeper understanding of the text. Instead of picking out a meaning of a word, or the gist of a passage, students will be asked to identify an overarching theme or pin-point the mood most prominent in the narrative.

Math questions will be similarly "mind-bending." Simple arithmetic will be replaced with abstract mathematical concepts like solving equations and reverse a series of complex computations. Exponents and scientific notations will figure prominently in the 8th-grade exams.

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