Assessment and Student Learning: "In Context"

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"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."

- Albert Einstein


Dear Parents,

This website provides plain talk about the role of assessment in student learning.  It is designed as a resource toolkit to assist you in making sense of the assessment landscape in New York State and to help you to understand the many ways Harrison has anticipated and/or responded to the Regents Reforms and the adoption of the Common Core Standards. 

Over the past three years, sweeping changes to educational policy have been enacted in New York State as part of the Regents Reform Agenda.  The adoption of the national Common Core Curriculum Standards in English Language Arts and mathematics has resulted in substantive changes to Harrison’s K-12 curriculum, requiring a comprehensive review of our instructional program as well as a refocusing of the district’s professional development for teachers and administrators. 

The Harrison Central School District is committed to the spirit of the Regents Reform Agenda, one that pursues educational excellence through high standards of rigor aligned with the Common Core Curriculum.  Harrison has been on the leading edge of these reforms during the past ten years through a host of initiatives including the adoption of International Baccalaureate Program in 2011.  We remain firmly committed to the mission of equity as well as excellence, ensuring that all students are afforded the most challenging academic curriculum possible and, perhaps more important, are treated with dignity and respect as learners.  For Harrison, this means that we value and celebrate growth as well as achievement. 

New York State has initiated an aggressive agenda to align annual standardized exams with the rigorous standards of the Common Core.  This effort has resulted in annual changes to NYS ELA and mathematics exams since 2010.  Changes were made to the content of the exams and the metric used to score student results.  In other words, the exam questions were re-designed to be more difficult, assessing more challenging content as well as students’ stamina.   For example, 3rd grade students were required to sit for 9 hours of "high stakes" exams over a period of 6 days.  In addition, the exams have been re-scaled multiple times, a statistical process designed to limit the number of students scoring at the proficiency and mastery levels. 

For Harrison, (and throughout Westchester County) the impact of the Regents Reform Agenda, particularly the rapid, successive changes to the content and scaling of New York State English Language Arts and mathematics exams in grades 3-8 has been resounding.   The exam scores for students in all four elementary schools decreased measurably, following general trends around the State.  Notably, the scores for students in schools with more diverse populations (that is, schools with higher percentages of special education, ESL and free/reduced lunch eligible) dropped significantly. 

It is important to understand that the NYS ELA and math exams are used to inform instructional decisions at the school level including the identification of students requiring supplemental academic support.   The radical changes to the exams in 2012/13 led to an unanticipated and precipitous statewide decrease in student performance. On average, only 31% of students in NYS scored at grade level proficiency on these revamped exams.  This was a decline of more than 25% from 2011/12. 

As a result, the Commissioner of Education, John King, issued a blanket qualifier regarding this year’s results.  In a letter to NYS parents, he states:

“I want to make it very clear that the change in test scores (including, possibly, one in your child's score) does not mean that students are learning less or that teachers and schools are performing worse than last year. Proficiency rates – the percentage of students meeting or exceeding the standards – on the new Common Core assessments cannot be compared with last year’s proficiency results since the old scores are from an old test based on the former standards.” (John B. King, August 7, 2013) 

Further, the Commissioner has issued a memorandum to all school superintendents in NYS indicating that the results from this year’s exams should not be used to determine placement of students for Academic Intervention as the scores do not accurately represent the grade level readiness of students in either Language Arts or mathematics.

On these qualifications, we agree. The teachers and administrators in your schools are highly trained professionals and receive comprehensive and continuous professional development in quality assessment practices.  Harrison's approach to student assessment has been thoughtfully designed and developed based on the principle of multiple measures.  It is a framework founded on a substantial body of research and one that has evolved through extensive curriculum revision and professional development.  We remain vigilant about the quality and effectiveness of our programs, conducting regular reviews to ensure that students are growing and achieving against the standards.

In these turbulent times, with schools undergoing tremendous change, it is more important than ever that you, our parent community, are well informed.  We value your partnership and support.  



Michael Greenfield
Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment