As expected, New York standardized test scores drop

August 7, 2013 3:17:13 PM PDT
New York education officials warned early on not to expect great results on the first English and math tests given statewide to elementary students under tougher new learning standards - and they're right.

The state Education Department on Thursday says test results show that 31 percent of students in grades 3 through 8 scored proficient in English, with the same percentage meeting or exceeding the standard in math. That compares to last year's results of 55 percent in English and about two out of every three students meeting or exceeding the math standard.

Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch and Education Commissioner John King will discuss the scores on a late-morning conference call. Already they're saying that they should be seen as a new baseline, rather than a decrease in student performance.

The tests were the first to be aligned with the more rigorous Common Core learning standards that have been adopted by most states. Most everyone expects the scores will be much lower than in previous years.

The tests traditionally have been used to measure student and school performance. But student growth on the tests is also now a universal factor in teacher and principal evaluations that New York requires from each of its 700 districts.

Because of the changes, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said Tuesday that students and parents should not be alarmed if the scores drop sharply.

Duncan said the results will "give a clear picture of where our students are on the trajectory toward college and career readiness."

"The lower proficiency rates that we will see ... do not reflect that teachers are teaching less or students are learning less," Duncan said during a conference call with New York state and New York City education officials.

The Common Core standards are supposed to increase the rigor of school curricula to better prepare students for college and careers.

Duncan said New York should be proud to be a leader of Common Core-aligned tests.

"Low standards are the equivalent of setting up for a track and field event with hurdles that are only about a foot tall," he said. "We should not be alarmed if test scores drop."

Also on Tuesday, two candidates seeking to succeed New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg used the anticipated drop in test scores to criticize Bloomberg's education policies.

"The administration has to ask itself, how can results that were supposed to be so good actually be so bad?" former City Comptroller William Thompson said at a news conference.

Current City Comptroller John Liu said in a statement that Bloomberg "had 12 years to advance his so-called reforms and pad his educational legacy. He failed."

Thompson, Liu and some of the other mayoral candidates have opposed Bloomberg policies such as closing schools that are deemed to be failing, and several of them have accused him of overreliance on test scores as a measure of student success.

Thompson said city students were unprepared for last spring's tests because new Common Core-aligned curriculum materials were not available yet.

But the city Department of Education defended its test readiness, noting in a memo that it has spent $133 million since 2010 and has allocated another $100 million for the 2013-2014 school year.