An audit by Harvard researchers compared student results on NY State exams (Regents, et al) with corresponding national exams, and it seems that much of the “progress” made by NY students over the past few years was probably illusory.
There are several telling statistics in the report, but none clearer than this: in 2007, the minimum score on the NY state math exam corresponded to the 36th percentile nationwide. In 2009, the minimum score on the NY state math exam corresponded to the 19th percentile nationwide. This effectively defined proficiency as “do better than 19 percent of students across the country”.
In theory, curves for tests can drop if exams get harder, but no one with any knowledge of NY State math exams would make that argument. Indeed, these exams have been getting easier and easier to pass. For example, to pass the Integrated Algebra Regents Exam in 2009, a student only needed 30 raw points out of 88. A passing score of 34% seems pretty low to begin with, but keep in mind that a student guessing randomly on the multiple choice questions alone should get about 1/4 of the questions right, which amounts to 15 points. Halfway to proficiency.