State education officials are refusing to release the results of federally required assessments in grades 3 through 8, deliberately keeping parents and taxpayers in the dark—not only about how New York’s public schools performed, but also about how that performance was measured.
The tests, given in June, were scored months ago. Local school officials received their own scores (plus a limited view into averages across their region) in September, and some parents had to wait until October to receive their own children’s results. Today, state officials still won’t release the data showing how students statewide—or rather, how the system overall—is performing.
In Florida and Arizona, scores were released by the end of June (even though they, too, are in the process of adjusting their assessment frameworks). Colorado, Texas and Delaware released their scores in early August.
Some factors undoubtedly slowed the State Education Department (SED) from organizing and disseminating data in a timely and meaningful way: an outdated assessment framework, inconsistent and unreliable reporting procedures, and constantly shifting standards. These, however, aren’t the public’s fault—nor are they valid reasons to leave them in the dark for this long.
That means the taxpayers funding the nation’s highest-spending education system do not get to see how their students and schools stack up to others around the state and country (nor the condition of their district) before making decisions for the following year.
Moreover, this year, state assessment results come with a huge disclaimer: they cannot be accurately compared to previous years, since they are now being measured against a brand-new standard for grade-level proficiency.
What is the new standard for considering students “proficient” in math or English language arts? That also remains under wraps.
What we do know is the “cut scores” that set the threshold to pass state exams in those subjects are likely to be lowered. The Board of Regents’ technical advisory committee said last year that test scores from school year 2021-22 (some of the lowest in the state’s history) will be used to inform part of that standard-setting process.
A lowered cut score on grades 3-8 state assessments would mean that lower test scores will be considered “proficient” this year. Because of this, one can expect most if not all schools, districts, and indeed the entire state, to demonstrate growth—no matter what happened in the classroom.
This has opened the door for local officials to make misleading statements about student achievement gains in their district from last year to this year. For example, NYC’s statement on their test score gains included a disclaimer about the new standard, while Schenectady’s superintendent’s did not, boasting “an increase in proficiency in math at every grade level.”
The Empire Center sent two Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) requests to SED on the first week of October: one for full release of statewide assessment data, and one for the 2023-24 technical score report which outlines how assessments were scored this year (and reveals where the new cut scores have been set).
Both have been denied.
SED claims that the full, statewide data is “not yet possessed,” and that it must undergo final formatting before being released to the public sometime in early December. But if the data exist, in any form, the state Freedom of Information Law says they should be released.
How is it possible that a state like New York, which spends more on average to educate one student than the rest of the world, cannot provide meaningful and timely access to the results of that investment? This is a symptom of an education bureaucracy that values transparency (and student merit) less and less.