Common Core Mystery Math: When 30 Equals 65 and Students Still Fail

On the June 2015 New York State Common Core aligned Algebra exam a raw score of 30 correct out of 86 questions (35%) equaled a passing score of 65% and performance level 3 or meets standard. But of course 35% only equals 65% in mystery math when you use the magical algorithm. Welcome to Hogwarts High!

New York State claimed it used this low "cut score" because the exam was harder than in the past and it hoped to equate passing rates on this math test with previous Regents Algebra exams. This test focused less on math computation skills and more on problem solving, which penalized students with reading difficulty. High School students must pass one math regents exam to earn a New York State diplomas. This is the one they usually pass because others do not have such generous cut scores.

But even mystery math cannot mask the algebraic collapse. According to a study published on Chalkbeat, the new test failed New York State's most at risk students. It also underscores the problem when you transform urban minority schools into test prep academies. When students are tutored for the test instead of taught math, changes in the test mean students fail. But while students get the failing scores, the real failure belongs to the New York State Education Department and the pressure to prepare students for high stakes tests.

The State Education Department reported that sixty-three percent of all test-takers passed the June 2015 Common Core-aligned Algebra I Regents examination. This was down from the seventy-two percent pass rate in June 2014. But declining scores and pass rates were especially high for African American, Latino, and high-need students. In New York City only fifty-two percent of students passed a 2015 algebra exam that only required a raw score of 35% to pass. At the High School for Science and Mathematics, where many students have limited English skills, pass rates fell from sixty-three percent to fourteen percent. Overall, pass rates dropped from fifty-six percent to twenty-eight percent for English language learners. Pass rates dropped by about twenty percent for African American and Latino students, students with disabilities, and students from low-income families.

At New York State high schools that have been transformed into test prep academies students and teachers did what they were told to do -- and then the state changed the test. Eventually students and teachers will adjust to the newer tests and scores will rise, not because they know math, but because they know the test.

There are similar Common Core mystery math developments in other states as state governments manipulate test scores to get pre-determined passing rates. In Ohio, two-thirds of the students were determined to be proficient in both math and reading on Common Core aligned tests administered in Spring 2015. Meanwhile Illinois used a different passing "cut score." So students in Illinois who took the same tests and had the same number of questions correct were declared below standard. In Massachusetts, were students traditionally score at or near the best in the nation, the "cut score" was set so that only half the students were deemed proficient. Florida decided to have a high pass rate by setting a low cut score. California and North Carolina took a different approach. Instead of changing the "cut score," they just change how they reported the results to the public.

The Common Core mystery math tests are such a mess that they have been dropped by half the states that originally signed up. Don't ask me how all of this happened. You probably better check the magic math algorithms! Maybe they can explain how when 30 Equals 65, students still fail.