New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio on Monday touted the gains made by city students on the annual state math and English tests, claiming the improved scores proved his school improvement strategies were paying off.
"For the third straight year, and for the second full year on our watch, we have seen real improvement in our test scores," said de Blasio at the Department of Education headquarters, following the state's release of results for the third through eighth grade tests Friday afternoon.
On the math tests, 36 percent of test takers were considered proficient, up by about one percent from the previous year and slightly below the overall math proficiency rate for the state.
City students showed larger gains on the English tests: 38 percent of students, up from about 30 percent the year before, achieved a level of proficiency on the tests. For the first time, city students outperformed the rest of the state on the English test.
Comparing this year's test results to previous years is challenging, since the tests were slightly shorter and students did not face time limits. But de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said the gains were real and broad. Every one of the city's 32 community school districts saw score increases.
"I've been in this business a long time," said Fariña, "and there are always some districts that move, some that stay the same, some that go backwards. For the first time, every single zip code moved forward."
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Fariña added that the majority of the city's 63 renewal schools that have testing grades showed improvement. Fifty-nine out of 63 of these lower-performing schools made gains on the English test; 40 out of 63 made gains in math.
The celebration over test scores came less than two months after legislators scrutinized de Blasio's leadership of the city schools and granted him just a one-year extension of mayoral control. The mayor's renewal school strategy has also been questioned, with critics saying progress was too slow.
David Kirkland, who leads the Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools at NYU, said the improvement in test scores should quiet the mayor's detractors.
"The students in the renewal schools are keeping pace with the rest of the city students — to me that's significant because it wasn't happening before," said Kirkland. "And with these supports and investments in place we're beginning to see the needle move in the right direction. Yes, the mayor can take a victory lap."
Still, Kirkland cautioned the idea of taking a victory lap based solely on test scores — especially for an administration that has worked to de-emphasize the importance of scores and their role in high-stakes decisions about schools and teacher performance.
"We can't have it both ways," he said. "We can't at once critique the mechanism of disparity — the test itself — and then use those tests when they show in our favor."