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State Test Scores No Longer Sole Basis for School Promotion, DOE Says

By Amy Zimmer | April 9, 2014 3:57pm
 Students, teachers and parents rallied in front of P.S. 321 recently against the standardized state English tests.
Students, teachers and parents rallied in front of P.S. 321 recently against the standardized state English tests.
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DNAinfo/Amy Zimmer

MANHATTAN — Failing scores on standardized tests will no longer be the main trigger for forcing students to repeat a grade in school, Department of Education officials announced Wednesday.

Instead of relying on controversial English and math tests — which have spurred a wave of protests across the city — teachers and principals will use an array of evaluations to determine which kids have to attend summer school and whether they will be able to graduate to the next grade at the end of the summer, officials said.

Test scores will continue to be a factor in deciding which kids in third through eighth grade are "at risk" of falling behind, but schools will also consider students' classroom work and report card grades, among other metrics.

“This new way forward maintains accountability, but mitigates the unintended consequences of relying solely on a single test,” Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said in a statement.

The proposed changes would create a way for city schools to comply with recent changes in state law calling for educators to make decisions on promotion rather than using test scores as the deciding factor.

Though the new promotion policy still needs to be approved by the mayor's Panel for Educational Policy in May, the changes would go into effect this school year, officials said.

“We have listened and worked closely with families, teachers and principals to establish a new promotion policy that complies with state law and empowers educators, takes the temperature down around testing, and keeps rigorous standards in place,” Fariña said.

The DOE began tying promotion to state test scores 10 years ago when it ended the practice of social promotion, which allowed students to move from one grade to the next regardless of their proficiency in English and math.

But the reliance on exam scores resulted in teachers “teaching to the test” and sparked anxiety around the high-stakes evaluations, many families and educators complained.

Last year’s dismal results on the new, more rigorous state tests aligned to the federal Common Core standards highlighted the problems relying so heavily on test scores.

In 2013, 47 percent of all New York City kids earned a "1" on at least one of the state tests, which is the lowest score. That meant the child's school had to create a portfolio of student work for the child, and if the portfolio wasn't strong enough, the student would have to go to summer school. Then the student would have to take a standardized test at the end of the summer to move onto the next grade.

Under the new rules, scoring a 1 would not automatically trigger a review of the student's portfolio.

Instead, teachers and principals would only review portfolios if they felt that the low test score accurately reflected the child's ability, officials said.

And instead of giving students a standardized test at the end of summer school, the students' summer work would be added to their portfolio, and principals would review the portfolios in August to decide whether the students should move onto the next grade. That will allow summer school teachers to focus on the areas where students need the most help, rather than on preparing them to pass a standardized test.

“This change returns the responsibility of assessing a child's readiness for the next grade to the educators most knowledgeable about his or her academic performance throughout the school year — the child's teacher and principal,” Aaron Pallas, professor of sociology and education at Teachers College at Columbia University, said in a statement.

He noted that there’s “scientific consensus” against making promotion decisions based solely on a child's performance on a single standardized test.

The approach is not new, DOE officials said. The practice is used in private schools, charter schools, other districts and even other grades in city schools.

The teachers union called the new policy “common sense.”

"A child is more than a single test score,” Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, said in a statement. “It is time that New York City takes into account all the work a child does the rest of the year, in the classroom, where the real learning takes place.”

Despite the changes, the DOE isn’t anticipating a change in the number of students in summer school, officials said. In 2013, roughly 10 percent of students in grades three through eight were recommended for summer school, with 2.5 percent ultimately left back.

The DOE expects similar numbers for the coming year.