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Majority of Student Scores Don't Change Over Time, Study Found

By Jill Colvin | July 13, 2012 2:14pm
An new IBO reporter examines student performance over time.
An new IBO reporter examines student performance over time.
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DNAinfo/Andrea Swalec

NEW YORK CITY — The vast majority of middle school students' performance stayed the same between third through sixth grade, a new report found, leading some to question whether public schools students are improving as much as city officials claim.

More than 60 percent scored at the same proficiency level on state English and math tests in the sixth grade as they did in the third grade, according to an analysis by the city's Independent Budget Office. Only 30 percent of students' scores improved during that span.

Eight percent of students' scores dropped over that same time period.

Unlike the DOE's own studies, which track improvements by comparing how one year's third or fifth graders compare with another's, the IBO study examined how individual students performed from one year to the next, tracking more than 46,000 students from the 2005-2006 through 2009-2010.

The study also found that 80 percent of those who did improve began on the lowest rungs of the ladder, with only 20 percent of students who tested in the "proficient" range in the third grade jumping to a higher level over the four-year span.

Nearly all of the students who scored in the highest-achieving band in third grade had also slipped down to "proficient" by the time they graduated.

City officials slammed the methodology as deeply flawed because of the way proficiency scores are calculated.

“As we explained to the IBO, their research is invalid,” the DOE said in a statement. “Testing experts know that performance levels on New York State tests cannot be compared from grade to grade without additional analysis, which this study failed to complete or consider."

"We are surprised the IBO would issue results with this fundamental flaw,” they said.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg added during his weekly radio show Friday.

"You can get any kind of result that you want," he said, "if you just pick the right group.”

But UFT President Michael Mulgrew said the findings are evidence that the city’s approach is failing.

“Test prep is not an educational strategy, and in the long run it doesn’t even give you better test scores,” he said in a statement.

“If the DOE had given teachers a solid curriculum and the ability to really educate our kids, we would have seen a lot more growth in student learning,” he said.