How much stock should we place in test scores? Very little, many parents and educators say. Tests represent a small snapshot of how students are performing at a given time, and there are other forms of measurement, they say.
But what if the scores show a pattern? What does it mean when year after year, students — different students, different tests — keep falling short? And not just by a little bit.
That appears to be the case in the Rochester City School District, and there doesn't seem to be a significant change on the horizon.
The New York State Department of Education released statewide test scores for English and math in grades 3 to 8 last week. And once again, the RCSD is the lowest performing of the "Big 5" urban school districts.
Across New York State, the average English language arts score is 38 percent for 2016, and that's up from 31 percent a year ago. In math, the score is 39 percent for 2016, up by about 1 percent from a year ago.
During a conference call with reporters last week, State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said that the SED used a different test vendor this time, that teacher involvement in creating the tests increased, that there were fewer questions for students to answer, and that students could work until they finished.
In other words, the tests should have been fairer and maybe a little easier.
But in Rochester, precious few students are proficient in math or English. Few function at grade level. For instance, only 6.7 percent of city students are proficient in English language arts, up two points from last year. And math scores declined by 0.2 percent, which leaves just 7.2 percent of city students proficient.
If you drill down at individual schools, it doesn't change much. At School 10, 162 students took the ELA test in 2015, and there were six kids at level 3 — meaning that they were doing OK. Only two students or 1 percent were working at level 4, meaning they that performed at a higher level.
In 2016, 173 students and only 3 percent of students are working at grade level, and zero are working at level 4.
Elia was questioned about Rochester's low performance. She said that the district has a lot of challenges, particularly its high childhood poverty. But there are some new developments that are encouraging, she said. For example, Rochester's new superintendent, Barbara Deane-Williams, has a great deal of experience, she said.
So back to the original premise, what do the test scores tell us, particularly if there's a pattern? What should parents and educators take away from them, considering that we are consistently performing near the bottom statewide?
At this point, the scores are more than a snapshot in time.