From the baseline, forward

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Paul Padalino. (Photo: Dan Barton)

To try to put the just-out state standardized test scores in perspective, Kingston City School District Superintendent Paul Padalino recalled a scene from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

“In the very beginning when Charlie Bucket is in class and his teacher is that crazy guy with the black hair, and he says, ‘I’m going to change the schedule now: Instead of having the test on Friday after we’ve learned the material, we’re going to have the test on Monday before we’ve learned it. That is the most appropriate way I can think of to express what went on this year.”

In a nutshell, Padalino said, Kingston students in grades three through eight were being tested on things they hadn’t necessarily learned yet. Despite a precipitous drop in scores — a drop experienced by pretty much every school in the state officials in the Kingston City School District remain optimistic about the future as the adoption of new tougher Common Core standards are implemented this September.

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“We knew going into this year that we wouldn’t really have any idea what was going to happen,” said Padalino. “We were testing students on curriculum that we had not necessarily taught them. The Common Core had not been fully implemented. We had pieces of it, but it still hadn’t been completely rolled out.”

The Common Core era officially began on Jan. 10, 2011 when the state Board of Regents adopted additions to the Common Core learning standards for English Language Arts & Literacy and Common Core Learning Standards for Mathematics, plus a new set of pre-kindergarten standards. New York, along with Kentucky, became a pioneer in adopting the new tougher standards designed to give students more rigorous preparation for college. In its first official year, there were predictable growing pains across New York. Most of the other 45 states adopting Common Core won’t switch over to the associated standardized tests until the 2014-15 school year.

The results of the 2012-13 standardized tests were released last week, and while supporters of the new Common Core feel making a comparison to the prior year’s figures is unfair, some school officials like Padalino said it was useful if for nothing else that it gives public school districts an opportunity to see where they need to improve.

“How we were looking at it was that it was a baseline, and we look to improve from there,” Padalino said of the 2012-13 results. “Parents are going to get these test scores and think their student went from being a [level] 3 or a 4 [meeting or exceeding standards] to being a 1 or a 2, and it’s a different test on material that we did not necessarily present. A lot of people think it’s unfair, but at the end of the day it’s a baseline and we’re going to move forward from here.”

Tough all over

Across the state, just 31 percent of students in grades three through eight met or exceeded standards in math and ELA scores, compared to roughly 65 percent in math and 55 percent in ELA just one year earlier. The results in Kingston also showed a steep decline.

Just 19.1 percent of Kingston’s third-graders met or exceeded standards in ELA, compared to 46.3 percent one year ago. And in math, just 18.7 percent of third-graders met or exceeded standards, compared to 53.3 percent in 2011-12.

In the fourth grade, 20.2 percent of Kingston’s students met or exceeded standards in ELA on 2012-13 testing, compared to 59.6 percent one year earlier. In math, 22.6 percent of fourth-graders met or achieved standards on the most recent round of tests, compared to 66.6 a year ago.

On ELA testing in the fifth grade, 27.4 percent of students met or exceeded standards in 2012-13, compared to 56.1 percent last year. In math testing, just 19.5 percent of fifth-graders met or exceeded standards, compared to 59.8 in 2011-12.

In the sixth-grade, 22.2 percent of Kingston’s students met or achieved standards in ELA testing, compared to 51 percent last year. And in math, 14.8 percent of 6th graders met or exceeded standards on 2012-13 testing, compared to 55.5 one year earlier.

Kingston’s seventh-graders saw their scores drop to a 21.3 percent proficiency in ELA this year from a 41.7 percent clip a year ago. In math, 17.6 percent of Kingston’s seventh-graders met or exceeded standards in 2012-13, compared to 48.1 percent one year earlier.

The district’s eighth-grade test results showed 28.5 percent of students meeting or exceeding standards in ELA, compared to 50 percent in 2011-12. And in math, just 13.3 percent met or exceeded standards on the last round of testing, compared to 47.2 in 2011-12.

“When you look at Kentucky and Florida and some of the states who originally last year went through this, their scores dropped significantly,” said Padalino. “Everyone up high in education, like the [State Education] Commissioner [John King Jr.], [U.S. Secretary of Education] Arne Duncan, they’re telling us to expect a significant drop. I wrote a blog maybe six months ago shooting that warning shot across the bow, saying, ‘Listen everyone, this is going to be different, and we are going to see a significant drop in proficiencies.’ Does that mean our students didn’t learn last year? Absolutely not. It just means they weren’t prepared for this test.”

Just wait until next year

School officials and district employees have had a busy summer, especially with the closure of three elementary schools and the completion of a comprehensive redistricting plan. But plenty of attention was given to ensuring students taking standardized tests in the coming school year are much better prepared than they were this past year.

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