PLATTSBURGH -- Local educators support high standards and don't believe the fact that fewer students are meeting them indicates teachers are failing.

Students taking the most recent round of state tests, which were purposely harder this time, scored lower than in years past, including at many North Country districts.

The need to increase the toughness of tests proves they're doing their job, some educators say, although they are a little concerned with how quickly the bar was raised.

"What is the urgency with moving backward so quickly?" asked Crown Point Central School Superintendent Sherri Brannock. "It must be motivation to make us look bad."

TOUGHER TESTS

Over the past few years school districts have reported improved results on standardized test scores.

But the New York State Education Department said the tests had become too easy to pass.

Testing experts across the country say many states dumbed-down tests to make them easier to indicate the adequate yearly progress required by the federal No Child Left Behind law and prevent schools from being shut down.

So the state applied tougher standards, making the tests less predictable and increasing the number of correct answers needed to pass them.

SCORES DROPPED

Recently, the state released results from the state's 2010 grade three to eight assessments in math and English language arts.

Statewide, 61 percent of students met or exceeded the standards in math, compared to 86 percent last year.

English scores dropped from 77 percent passing or excelling to 53 percent.

Only 15 percent of students with disabilities met or exceeded the new English standard, with 25 percent of them passing or excelling on the math test.

Tests are given to all students grades three to eight, and the New York State Education Department has asked the U.S. Education Department for an exemption this year, for fear of schools being labeled as failing.

The tests are scored Level 1 to 4, with 1 being below the standard and 4 exceeding it.

DRAMATIC CHANGE

AuSable Valley Central School officials are deciphering the data they recently received.

"It was such a quick decision," said Superintendent Paul Savage. "There was an expectation there would be changes, but we didn't know how dramatic, and it was enacted pretty quickly."

Roughly 30 percent of eighth-graders in AuSable scored in Levels 3 and 4 on the math exam and 27.5 percent on the English exam.

Nearly 70 percent of AVCS sixth-graders scored in Levels 3 and 4 for the English exam.

"You will see the proficient rate go down across the board for every district," Savage said.

"That doesn't mean students are doing worse, because the cut score was changed in the middle of the game."

TIMING CRITICIZED

Plattsburgh City School Superintendent James "Jake" Short felt scoring was elevated because teachers and students were meeting and exceeding the standards.

"Since schools across the state have all made dramatic improvements, it is completely logical to move the standard again so the ultimate goal gets higher and higher. But doing it in the middle of the test or after the test doesn't make much sense."

In other words, moving the target and then asking schools to aim and shoot for it is logical, but moving it after teachers and students already aim and shoot isn't practical.

"I wish this hadn't been done on the backs of students," Short said.

Slightly less than 40 percent of Plattsburgh City School fifth-graders met or exceeded the English standard, while more than 67 percent of sixth-graders scored in Levels 3 and 4 on the math test.

RESOURCES

Short supports higher standards but stressed schools need the resources to achieve that goal.

The New York State School Boards Association and the Council of School Superintendents echoed his concern, pointing out that the state has instead been cutting aid and threatening a property-tax cap.

"Our state is in dire financial trouble, and the scores indicate the state needs more support for education, and I think that is a manipulative motivation," Brannock said.

Test scores don't mirror overall student performance, she said, especially at small schools where one or two students struggling can significantly affect percentages.

A total of 36.8 percent of Crown Point seventh-graders met the English standard, while nearly 74 percent of third grades scored in Levels 3 and 4 on the math test.

"We have had great progress in the past several years, and our teachers and students are doing a fine job," Brannock said.

"If they need to change the standards, OK; but go forward and don't go backward and curb downward the progress students have made."

E-mail Stephen Bartlett at: sbartlett@pressrepublican.com

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