City Teachers, Principals Brace for Low Test Scores

Principals started getting test scores for their schools Monday, but they are not allowed to discuss the results before the state and city release them publicly on Wednesday. Nonetheless, word is spreading among anxious teachers and principals that the scores really did go down. One person close to the school system called it a "bloodbath."

The city and state have been warning the public that this year's tests were much harder, and that far fewer students are expected to pass. These tests were the first under challenging new standards called the Common Core.

Last year, about 50 percent of city students were proficient in reading and 60 percent were proficient in math. Chancellor Dennis Walcott has warned that figure could fall by about 30 points.

"My principal is quite upset," one elementary school teacher, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said. The teacher, referring to the teachers union and the city Department of Education, added, "One teacher said the UFT should sue the DOE for psychological damage on kids!"

Teachers also say they are hearing that far more students are winding up at the lowest level on the new exams. The test results are still divided into levels 1 through 4, with levels 3 and 4 signifying students who meet or exceed proficiency. But the scoring system is entirely different.

The new Common Core emphasizes more vocabulary words and longer reading passages for younger students. Many teachers have said they did not get enough support to prepare, and the tests were given before schools had a chance to order new curricula. 

But city officials have said they offered training and online materials, and say schools they will not be punished for low scores.

"It's not about how many pass," said Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky. Instead, he said the real question is about figuring out how to ensure students meet standards in each grade that will get them on track for college and careers. He said this year is just a baseline.

"Over time young people are going to rise to this challenge," he added.