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State Exams Downgraded Impressively, Education Officials Say

N.Y. State education officials have confirmed suspicions of standardized exams downgrading over the last four years and promised the scoring for the next spring tests would be recalibrated. This impends almost inevitable fail for thousands more students.

While state’s scores were high at almost every level, no similar gains were seen in other areas, including national exams, they said.

The surge in the passing rates New York has seen after Michael R. Bloomberg re-election last year, sparkled allegations of school officials making the tests too easy.

“The only possible conclusion is that something strange has happened to our test,” David M. Steiner, the education commissioner, said at a Board of Regents meeting in Albany. “The word ‘proficient’ should tell you something, and right now that is not the case on our state tests.”

The state decided to ask the experts at Harvard University to analyze the scores and then compare them with the results of national exams and Regents tests of the previous years. The researches found the regularity that students who received a passing grade on the state eighth-grade math exam, for example, had only a one-in-three chance of scoring highly enough on the math Regents test in high school.

State exams in English and Mathematics, taken by everyone from the third to eighth grade, have historically been easier to pass than the national ones, which are given to advanced fourth and eighth graders throughout the country.

Harvard researches have found the dramatic disparity in academic levels between N.Y. state exams and national exams.  Students who received the minimum score enabling them to pass the state math tests in 2007 constituted 36 per cent of all students nationally, while in 2009 they accounted for only 19 per cent.

“That is a huge, massive difference,” Dr. Steiner said. He also pointed that the exams had covered a narrow part of the curriculum, particularly in math, and that questions were often repeated from year to year with slight differences, so that a students could possess tentative answers after speaking with their peers who had taken the tests the year before.

Meanwhile the state began to expand the range of topics on its tests, making the questions less predictable. Dr. Steiner refused to say what the passing scores would be, however he said there would be “the major shift”. Last year, 77 per cent of students statewide were deemed proficient in English, up from 62 per cent in 2006; 86 percent passed the math test, compared with 66 percent three years earlier. The scores this year are expected to be released at the end of the month.

Other states have also embarked on changes with their tests and seem to be making notable progress. The recent analysis conducted by Thomas B. Fordham Institute in all 50 states and the DC found the common academic standards many states will be adopting are clearer and more rigorous than those currently used.

However, the changes are feared to disperse chances for students to pass statewide, especially in schools in large urban cities and areas. Criticism has already been heard from superintendents in Buffalo and Syracuse.  “We’ve lost sight of the purpose of the test — it’s supposed to show you’ve mastered a certain skill at a certain time,” said Daniel G. Lowengard, the superintendent in Syracuse.

“I think it’s unfair to teachers to say thank you very much, you’ve been doing this work for the last three or four years, and now that your kids are passing, all of sudden we’re going to call a B a C and call a C a D.”

Sometimes quite the opposite points of view are heard.

“If you think standards have been lowered, you should look a few decades back. If you take the common math assignment from the fifties, for instance, and compare it with the current tasks, you’ll see what I’m talking about.”, – says Matthew Barney, the former TA and ProfEssays.com economics expert. “Back in 1970’s standards were incredibly higher than they are now. And today we have teachers who are given accolades for work that would barely, if at all, have been given but a passing grade in the 1940’s and 50’s.”

New York City, however, has welcomed the changes, particularly over the traditional practice of tying scores to letter grades to schools and to pay bonuses to their principals.

“It will make all of us raise the bar”, Chancellor Joel I. Klein said.

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