State Assessment Results Paint a Compelling Case Common Core State Standards Are Helping to Improve Student Achievement

Although proficiency rates among New York students in grades 3-8 increased in both math and English language arts, Robin Jacobowitz and KT Tobin argue that the results are inconclusive because changes were made to the state’s tests and testing policy, in a piece posted on the Washington Post.

“In an effort to be responsive to [teachers’ and parents’] concerns—a good thing—test standardization was sacrificed—a bad thing… This lack of comparability renders the assessments virtually useless,” Jacobowitz and Tobin suggest.

As the authors point out, New York education officials made adjustments to the state’s exams and testing policy, including shortening the length of both the math and English language arts portions, giving students more time, and implementing a moratorium on using the results in teacher evaluations. Those changes were made in direct response to parents’ and teachers’ concerns.

However, it is wrong to suggest the scores are “virtually useless”or to extrapolate that the trend of improvement is misleading. Like New York, states across the country that have committed to rigorous education standards and high-quality assessments have overwhelmingly experienced gains in student performance. And there is now greater comparability across states and districts.

Last year, most states administered assessments aligned to the Common Core for the first time, establishing a new, more challenging baseline for student expectations. “We have accomplished what we needed to accomplish,” Louisiana State Superintendent John White said last fall. “States have adopted higher standards, states have tests that measure those standards and they’re comparable, so there can be an honest baseline… That is a fantastic success for each state and for America and its children.”

This year, many states once again administered assessments aligned to the Common Core or standards built on the Common Core framework. “Where the first year drew a starting point, this year’s results offer an indication of the progress students are making,” Jim Cowen wrote this week. “Although it’s too early to plant a flag, initial results indicate… the original promise of the Common Core is working.”

Early data indicate states that have made a commitment to high standards and high-quality assessments—like New York—are now seeing the payoff from those efforts. “These states share a commitment to rigorous academic expectations, are listening to and reacting to feedback from educators and the public, and continue to build on the foundation of Common Core to ensure the standards are tailored to their schools’ needs,” Cowen adds.

Conversely, states that have “gone it alone” on student assessments, or taken the ill-advised “repeal-and-replace” path with standards, have introduced disruption and uncertainty for teachers and students. While most states are providing families with accurate and actionable information about student performance, states that seek to appease critics by replacing high-quality assessments risk following in the footsteps of Oklahoma.

The “Honesty Gap” analysis this year identified New York as one of the “most honest” states for implementing high standards and accurate assessments. State officials continue to build on that success by fine-tuning testing policies to ensure they meet student needs. That is a step in the right direction.