August 14, 2014

Dear Parents and Legal Guardians,

Earlier today, the State Education Department (SED) released the results of the grades three through eight English language arts (ELA) and math assessments, which were administered during the 2013-14 school year. For students who participated in these exams, individual student reports will be released by SED and made available to parents and legal guardians in the fall.

This year’s ELA and math assessments represent the second administration of Common Core Learning Standards aligned exams, which were designed by SED to measure each student’s progress toward college and career readiness. This major shift in focus, first instituted for the 2012-13 exams, significantly impacted the performance of students on the assessments.

The assessment data released today show an increase in math proficiency for our students in all grades assessed, with the exception of the eighth grade assessment, which this year excluded those students enrolled in advanced eighth-grade math. Outcomes on the ELA assessments varied, with half of the grade levels showing equal or improved outcomes and half demonstrating decreased proficiency levels. Regardless of the 2013-14 scores, the proficiency levels produced by these redesigned assessments continue to be significantly below those experienced by our students before the new assessments were instituted.

Despite the prior knowledge that this year’s scores would continue to be impacted by SED’s changes to the assessments, it is nonetheless disconcerting to see such disappointing levels of proficiency. We know that the change in proficiency rates does not mean teachers are teaching less or that students are learning less than in the past. In fact, we know that our teachers continue to instruct at the highest levels and that our students are experiencing educational progress at appropriate levels.

There should be no doubt that our schools and teachers embrace the concept of increased academic rigor. Indeed, increased academic rigor is a critical component of the District’s strategic plan, Next STEP. So, while we support SED’s philosophy of “raising the academic bar,” we remain disheartened that over the past four years SED has continually changed the meaning of “success” as it pertains to outcomes on these assessments, resulting in continued degradation, whether in actuality or perception, of the hard work of our students, teachers, and principals.

As I have stated in the past, we will not be distracted by the continually changing baseline for student proficiency created by SED. Indeed, we remain committed to our stated goals, which include improved academic opportunities, as well as enhanced accountability at all levels. We will continue on this path in a balanced and sensible manner in order to provide our students with an educational experience rich in creativity, self-expression, critical thinking, advanced problem-solving skills, and much more.

To further explore your child’s performance on this year’s assessments, when they are provided to you in the fall, I encourage you to communicate with your child’s principal and teachers.

Sincerely yours,

Dr. Michael F. Ring
Superintendent of Schools