Wednesday, October 22, 2003

NY State Math Scores Increase

The New York Times reports that math scores on the New York State exams (given in fourth and eighth grade) increased dramatically this year, and that scores in the city, and in the Bronx, increased more than in other areas. That's terrific, if it's true and continues; after all, in some schools only 10-20% of students passed the test in previous years. Whatever you might think of standardized tests, it's not a terrible thing if kids demonstrate improvement in math knowledge and ability. My experience teaching in the Bronx has been that the kids are extremely weak - and years behind their suburban counterparts - in Math and are not always getting the best instruction in that subject (although some teachers are excellent).

Incidentally, the numbers in the eighth grade, while improved, are still pretty scary: barely more than 1/3 of city students passed the 8th grade math test.

The article wisely points out that the rise in scores could be due to an unusually easy test, although teachers and experts reviewing the test found it to be reliable and comparable in difficulty to previous years. It would seem odd to me that BOTH the 4th and 8th grade exams would be unreliable in the same year, although NY State had plenty of problems with Regents' exams this year, so you never know.

At a news conference yesterday, Mr. Mills said the schools that had improved the most this year had taken basic measures to bolster their math programs, like teaching math every day and holding after-school sessions. "It's not mysterious in any way," he said.

The gains, he added, may reflect several years of work that finally paid off.

This part leaves me slightly confused. Math was NOT being taught every day in some schools??? Schools were NOT offering after-school help in Math? The schools where I have taught and my friends have taught teach Math not just once a day, but two or three periods a day to many students! And they offer tons of after-school programs to prepare for the test. It's hard for me to believe that these changes only happened recently in some schools.

Then again, if the test was first given in 1999, that means that this year's fourth graders would have been getting extra help and attention in Math for their entire academic careers, which might mean a cumulative effect that only just showed up.

Anyway, let's hope the scores stay high and go higher!

And let's hope not too much art, music, imaginative play, science, social studies - indeed, not too much childhood - was sacrificed to get these scores.

ps. The elementary school which shares a building with us showed a large increase, but was still among the lowest-performing in the district. The middle school where I used to teach showed a small increase and was average for our district. About 1/4 of the students passed, and about 1/3 were "far below the standard." My current school did not have any 4th or 8th grade students last year, so we have no scores. Here's the 4th grade data. Here's the 8th grade data.


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