Facing Lower Test Scores Bloomberg Administration Takes Long View

Wednesday, August 07, 2013 - 08:48 PM

Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky

New York is now the second state in the country to see its math and reading scores tumble following the adoption of more difficult tests for grades three through eight. The percentage of New York students considered proficient in math and reading was cut almost in half.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his education officials appealed for calm as they called the scores a new "baseline" from which the city can evaluate student performance going forward.

During a press conference at the Department of Education headquarters, Bloomberg was joined by State Education Commissioner John King and Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch. It was a striking image of solidarity as all parties tried to soften the jarring news that only 31 percent of third through eighth graders in New York State were proficient in math and reading, and fewer in New York City.

Bloomberg noted that the new tests were designed to measure college and career readiness, and are therefore harder than any that were given before. With that in mind, he said, they were more like the 2011 national tests that found 26.5 percent of city students proficient in English and 28 percent in math. Those results were almost identical to the performance of city students on the new state exams: 26.4 percent were proficient in English and 29.6 percent were proficient in math.

The mayor also emphasized that city students outperformed the other large urban school districts in the state. In Rochester, for example, only 5 percent of students were proficient in English.

"Our teachers are doing a spectacular job," he said. "No other big city I think remotely comes close to the state averages."

But city principals and teachers were stunned as scores tumbled throughout the five boroughs. And there was no getting around the fact that a shocking 36 percent of city students scored at the lowest level in both math and reading. In previous years, that would have kept them from moving on to the next grade.

Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky, however, urged families and teachers not to panic. He emphasized that these new tests, like the state standards, are designed to get students ready for college and careers, instead of just over the hump of graduation.

"I think one way to look at this is if you got a level 2 or above you’re on track for high school graduation. If you got a level 3 or above your on track to be college ready. And if you’re in that level I category, some of the students are really really struggling at the bottom end and others are approaching what they need for a high school graduation to be on track," he said.

But not everyone was on board. Parent activist Zakiyah Ansari, of New Yorkers for Great Public Schools, said students might have done better on the exams if the city had given them a more solid foundation.

"Testing has been on steroids under the Bloomberg administration," she said during a rally Wednesday morning. "It has been used as a way to punish, not to assess and support schools and educators."

Suransky said no teachers will be punished because of the new test scores. A new evaluation system, in which 20 percent of a teacher's rating is based on their students' test scores, will not kick in until after the 2014 exams. He also said schools will be compared to each other for the upcoming report cards this fall, mitigating the impact of this year's low scores.

New York is among 45 states plus the District of Columbia that have adopted Common Core standards which emphasize critical thinking as well as more reading and writing. Kentucky was the first state to use exams linked to the standards and it also saw a huge drop in student proficiency rates. 

Some academics said they believe it's still too early to know whether the tests will measure what students need to be ready for college, partly because they're so new.

"I worry that the low scores in New York City and around the state will be seen as a license for unproven reforms, on the grounds that performance is so low that almost anything would be better," said Aaron Pallas, a professor of education and sociology at Teachers College-Columbia University.

"The truth is that anyone who confidently asserts that implementing the Common Core curriculum and teaching to Common Core-aligned state tests will result in better long-term outcomes for children and youth is lying," he said. "We simply don't know if that's the case."

Many teachers and parents complained that this year's exams seemed too difficult for young students, and didn't give them enough time to finish.

But Bloomberg noted that scores typically fall when there's a new test, and then creep up again. In 2010, the state made its exams tougher to pass and proficiency rates fell by double digits. They were inching up until this year.

Sean Corcoran, a professor of education and economics at New York University, agreed the picture is likely to improve in a few years.

"We can be sure these scores will improve over time as schools adopt the curriculumand students and teachers become more comfortable with these tests."


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Comments [8]

Mike Zamansky from NYC

"But Bloomberg noted that scores typically fall when there's a new test, and then creep up again."

Which is a way of saying that now we'll once again force our teachers to teach to the test.

Aug. 08 2013 02:13 PM
EKratzer from NYC area

Just caught the final portion of Beth on NPR commenting on the tests and results. Did I hear correctly that Pearson developed the test? The educational books company?

Aug. 08 2013 10:57 AM
Rhea from Queens

Schoolbook's story about the view taken by parents and students was fantastic. Oh wait...what? You only did a story focusing on the Bloomberg administration's view? oh.

Aug. 08 2013 10:38 AM

Really Shael? Please show us the research that supports this statement? "I think one way to look at this is if you got a level 2 or above you’re on track for high school graduation. If you got a level 3 or above your on track to be college ready. And if you’re in that level I category, some of the students are really really struggling at the bottom end and others are approaching what they need for a high school graduation to be on track," he said.
And Mr. Bloomberg, what is the "national test"? The NAEP? It is not an indicator of college readiness. This is all nonsense.

Aug. 08 2013 10:01 AM
John Cain from Watertown, NY

Shael Polakow-Suransky underlines the reasons why we need educators making decisions at the city and state levels instead of lifelong politicians and bureaucrats. Even the students know that the test do not prepare them for college and career readiness. If tests did that, wouldn't we just test our students every day? Secondly, they are not state standards. They are common core standards adopted by multiple states across the union - they are in essence national standards. Just because New York tweaked them a little doesn't give us a unique set of state standards.

Aug. 08 2013 08:55 AM
Jessica from Manhattan

Your story is misleading. You say "minorities" passed at very low rates, but that's not true of Asians, who did, I believe, much better than other groups including whites. Aren't Asians a minority? Why are they doing so much better? Why wasn't this mentioned in your story?

Aug. 08 2013 08:47 AM
Seth from NYC

Frankly, all the spin around this test and the results should make us sick. We have every politician and interest group weighing in and basically saying all the same things they said before. Shame on everyone who excuses the poor results because the test was new and harder. Shame on everyone who complains about lack of preparation for the new standard as if the ~50% pass rate on the old standard was anything to be proud of.

These results tell the same story as the results on the old test: our students are doing very poorly. The cornerstones of education are teachers, parents and students. And until they all are embarrassed by this type of performance (rather than pointing fingers) we are not going to solve anything.

Aug. 08 2013 08:17 AM
Gregory McCrea from Baldwinsville, NY

I find it hilarious that all the politicians and bureaucrats are urging parents and teachers "not to panic." They are the ones parading around making a fuss of the new lower test scores. This is a textbook manufactured crisis complete with branded talking points "baseline" and "college and career ready." I hope New Yorkers (and the media) are smart enough to see past the dog and pony show. It's time we held the politicians accountable for yet another edreform fumble.

Aug. 08 2013 12:48 AM

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