Proficiency Test Scores Are Cause For Concern

Standardized testing results for students in New York’s public schools have been released and, once again this year, there are plenty of reasons for hand-wringing as well as head-scratching.

On the whole, the numbers are not good. Data released last week by the state Department of Education showed 34 percent of Chautauqua County students scored as proficient in math compared to 32 percent in 2016. English language arts proficiency increased from 30 percent in 2016 to 32 percent this year. Statewide, the percentage of students proficient in ELA in grades three through eight increased 1.9 percent from 37.9 percent in 2016 to 39.8 percent this year, whereas the same figures for mathematics increased 1.1 percent from 39.1 percent to 40.2 percent this year.

It sounds as if we are making progress, but how many of those gains are addition by subtraction? Every school district in Chautauqua County except for Ripley had a portion of their students refuse to take the tests, with 43.1 percent of students in the Fredonia Central School District refusing the math test and 47.8 percent of Fredonia students refusing to take the math exams. An analysis of 2017 test refusers showed many, though certainly not all, test refusers hadn’t shown proficiency in 2016 or didn’t take the tests at all in 2016.

School district officials contacted by The Post-Journal say they are still digging into the data. We can say one thing with near certainty — only about one-third of Chautauqua County students are proficient in English language arts and math, by the state’s own definitions. And, given the modest gains in proficiency, it is likely few gains have been made narrowing achievement gaps among low-income students or students for whom English is a second language.

These results are cause for concern — they mean nearly two-thirds of students in our schools right now aren’t ready for college or a career. The students who end up in college will need remedial help in writing and math before they are ready for college-level courses. Those who end up in the workforce are going to need additional training before they are ready for jobs that can pay a living wage. Part of those children struggling to attain proficiency will likely find themselves in poverty.

Any progress is good, of course, but such small gains will take decades to truly make a difference. We won’t see 50 percent of students proficient in Chautauqua County, at this rate, until 2027 in English language arts and 2025 in math.

For our children and our county, we need to start seeing bigger gains in student proficiency.