A coalition called Save Our Schools is urging the city to stop relying so heavily on standardized tests. The group of elected officials and education groups says the sudden decline in scores this year, after the state made its tests harder to pass, shows how unreliable exams can be when measuring schools and principals.
In a show of political muscle, the new coalition filled the grand courthouse steps outside the Department of Education's headquarters on Chambers Street with about 150 parent leaders and activists, plus elected officials. There were City Council members and state lawmakers, all of whom had something to say to the assembled media.
Brooklyn State Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries said it's time to hold the city accountable for the low performance of its students.
"When it comes to this test score debacle I think there's only two options: a D for disaster or an F for fraudulent," he said, to applause.
The percentage of stuents proficient on their state math and reading scores fell by more than 25 points in New York City this year after the state changed its scoring system. Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein have argued that average test scores didn't actually drop, and that more students failed because the state raised the cutoff for passing.
But the education groups rallying today said that showed how many more students are now in need of extra support. They noted that there are almost 110,000 more students who aren't meeting the standards for English Language Arts this year than last year.
Kim Sweet of the group Advocates for Children says the city should focus on providing more help for these pupils. "Holding them back in the same schools they just came from doesn't do the job. They need intensive, academic targeted support to succeed," she stated.
The Department of Education says it's already doing that. It's encouraged principals to identify and develop personalized learning plans for students, particularly those in the lowest third and for those who struggled to meet the new standards on state exams. Schools can use their extra 37.5 minute period of instruction before or after the day begins for academic interventions or professional development for teachers.
But a city Department of Education spokeswoman says the agency will continue using test scores to hold its schools and principals accountable. "Delaying necessary reform, even for one year, will only hurt our kids and take us backwards," said communications director Natalie Ravitz.
Meanwhile, the state Senate and the City Council are vowing to hold hearings in the coming weeks on this year's state exams and the resulting fallout.