Debunking the Claims of CCSD Student Performance Declines (Part 2)

It is my experience that the arguments that Clarkstown Central School District students are “declining” or “failing” the state’s standardized tests have one of two main assumptions in their arguments.  The first assumption minimizes or, more typically ignores, the recent changes in the state’s English Language Arts (ELA) test administration and assessments, and the impact of those changes on the performance measures for Clarkstown, Rockland and the rest of the state.  I addressed this assumption in Debunking the Claims of CCSD Student Performance Declines (Part 1).

However, let me take a moment to present a simplified explanation of the impact of the changes in the tests and assessments.  Let’s say that instead of measuring proficiency in English, we’re measuring proficiency in how far students can push a big rock up a hill. The increased difficulty of the tests is represented by the size of the rock (the circles), and the higher requirements for proficiency are the slope of the hill where one is pushing said rock.  Here’s what it looks like.

For the past three years, our kids have had to push bigger rocks up steeper hills to earn the same levels of proficiency.  This is why many kids scoring Level 2 would have scored Level 3 or even Level 4 if the test conditions and assessments were the same in 2011 as they were in 2009.  If one doesn’t acknowledge the obvious impacts of these changes, one cannot possibly evaluate the test results properly.

This doesn’t stop people from trying to find more ways to “prove” Clarkstown is failing its students.  Those other arguments rely on the second main assumption in their arguments: that the current CCSD fails in comparison with other Rockland districts or a vague CCSD of myth and yore.  Today, I am going to look at those arguments.

One typical argument is that Clarkstown used to be the top school district in Rockland on the standardized tests and is now in the middle.  Well, the chart below reflects the more accurate observation that Clarkstown, South Orangetown, Pearl River and Nanuet have consistently and fairly significantly outperformed their Rockland County peers.

When you look at these four top-performing districts, the difference in the levels of proficiency between the CCSD and any given district year-to-year is a small margin. 

Put it this way – since at least 2006, the number of students combined in the districts of South Orangetown, Nanuet and Pearl River has been 5 - 10% lower than the number of students in Clarkstown.  The number of students taking the ELA’s in those districts mirrors this 5 – 10% range.  How does Clarkstown compare to their combined averages?

Notice the sharp decline in the CCSD compared to these districts?  You don’t because it isn’t there.  Is it reasonable, then, to say that Clarkstown is scoring in the middle of the Rockland districts?  Not really, because the CCSD, Nanuet, PR and S.O. districts not only score closely but significantly higher than their Rockland peers.

The bottom line is that the CCSD students continue to consistently deliver among the best ELA results in Rockland and in New York.

Enough with the ELA’s, right?  That’s not the only standard.  What about the SAT’s?

Well, how about the Regents?  At the Sept. 8th board meeting, the principals of the districts two high schools presented data showing 95% of CCSD graduates in 2011 earned Regents diplomas.  They went on to show many subject areas where 100% of students passed the Regents.  They further showed increases in the number of students who earned the annotation of “Mastery” (85% or better) and “Honors” (90% or better).

That’s great news, right?  Mr. DeGaetano was not impressed.  “It always puzzles me”, he said, “when I see these Regents scores come in, where it’s 65% (the grade required to earn a Regents diploma).  People put it up on the board and they’re happy with kids not knowing 35% of the material…How many kids are between 65 and 75% on these Regents tests?” 

The Regents doesn’t distinguish between 65% and 85-90%.  Where did 75% come from?

I’m thinking of a number between 65 and 75…I don’t know why….
Apparently missing the stated goals of both principals to increase the number of students achieving Regents Mastery and Honors, Mr. DeGaetano went on to say that we should be working to bring the CCSD back to what is used to be.

Looking at this, I’d rather not.
Since the ELA and Math assessment results in 2010, I have been trying to find some data that could possibly support the assertion that CCSD student performance is declining.  I have looked at those assessments, SAT scores, AP results, graduation rates, Regents results, college acceptances – everything I look at says that performance has been maintained or improved in the last 6 years.

Equally important, while the older data has been much harder to come by, everything I’ve reviewed says that current student performance in the CCSD is vastly better than it was prior to 2006. 

Of course, I support continually raising our standards and challenging our children to do the best that they can.  Areas that can be improved, however, do not equate to failure.  This myth of CCSD student performance declines is busted.

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