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Apodaca: Let's not overreact to dip in test scores

August 16, 2013|By Patrice Apodaca

The Newport-Mesa school district recently reported that its most recent standardized test scores declined slightly from a year earlier, the first drop in a decade.

The results mirrored similar declines statewide, a development that led to a spasm of front-page stories and excuse-making by worried educators. Blame was laid on budget cuts and on the supposedly temporary confusion and uncertainty as public schools throughout California transition to new teaching standards.

Newport-Mesa Supt. Fred Navarro even went so far as to suggest the decrease in scores was expected.

"We anticipated the slight dip in scores as our focus has changed during this past year as we prepare to transition to the Common Core State Standards," his statement read.

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But here's my own amateur analysis: No one can really say with absolute certainty why the numbers dipped. And more important, it would be a mistake to overreact.

I don't remember much from my college statistics class. But I'd hazard a guess that the overall decreases of 0.4 and 0.6 of a percentage point, respectively, in NMUSD's math and English-language arts scores aren't — for lack of a more technical term — a big deal statistically speaking.

And it's worth noting that our district's scores are still well above state averages.

Yes, we'd all like to see test scores moving in a positive direction. But the fact that such tiny changes in data are treated as major news says a whole lot more about the modern hysteria over standardized testing than it does about the relative health of our schools.

When I spoke to Navarro about the test results, he treaded a fine line between concern and caution.

"I think accountability is important," he said. "This is one type of accountability."

He repeated his belief that the shift to the new Common Core standards is having a temporary effect.

"You're teaching a new curriculum that has a different set of expectations," he said. "It does take some time away" from teaching to the old standards, upon which students are still being assessed.

The new standardized testing system aligned with the Common Core objectives, which is being designed by the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium, will be implemented in Newport-Mesa in the spring of 2015, he said.

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