New York State’s Test Scores Flatline, City’s Creep Up

New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott in Albany, N.Y. on Monday, May 23, 2011. Walcott and the mayor lauded the city's education test results on Monday. AP/Mike Groll.

When it comes to this year’s standardized test scores, there’s good news and there’s bad news.

The bad news is that statewide scores remained basically unchanged since last year — English scores even dropped slightly — and the achievement gap is unfortunately very much alive and kicking.

The good news (such as it is) is that New York City’s scores crept upwards by 1.5 percent in English and 3.3 percent in math.

The results for the third-through-eighth grade state English and Math tests, released Monday by the New York State Department of Education, showed that a little over half of students statewide were rated proficient or better in English (52.8 percent), while a greater percentage were rated proficient in math (63.3 percent).  That’s a .4 percent dip in English scores and a 1.3 percent increase in math scores as compared to last year.

These scores come amid recent changes to state tests. Last year, state officials increased the scores needed to be considered “proficient,” leading to huge drops in the number of students reaching that goal. This year, the Education Department made the tests harder, adding more multiple choice questions, increasing the length of the tests and requiring all students to write an essay on the English exam.

State officials acknowledged that “overall performance remains low” and underscored the need to “aggressively move forward” with reform.

“Better tests are only one part of the reform strategy. We’re also moving forward in our efforts to ensure better training and better support for the teachers and principals in our schools; to provide more transparent and useful data; and to help our lowest performing schools take the necessary steps to turn around their performance or replace them with innovative alternatives,” Education Commissioner John B. King said in a press release.

Bloomberg’s spin: In a written statement, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Chancellor Dennis Walcott said that New York City students “dramatically outpaced” the rest of the state and hailed “significant gains in nearly every grade and subject.”

While it’s true that proficiency scores in the city outpaced scores in Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse by about 20 points, at 43.9 percent proficiency on the English exam and 57.3 percent proficiency on the math test, city students did not fare as well as the statewide average.

Still, Bloomberg lauded the city’s progress: “All of our students, teachers and principals should be very proud of their progress and the fact that we continue to raise achievement levels and outpace the rest of the state.”

Gaps (chasms?) that remain: Across the state, variances in test scores between racial groups and income brackets remain. United Federation of Teachers’ president Michael Mulgrew praised the “incremental gains” made in test scores, but warned that there was still work to be done: “Given issues like the stubborn nature of the achievement gap, we still have a long way to go. The DOE needs to come up soon with an instructional strategy that can keep this progress going, despite the problems we are facing next year like a dramatic rise in class size and the loss of hundreds of valuable programs.”

  • On the English exam, 35 percent of black students and 37.2 percent of Hispanic students were rated proficient, as compared to 64.2 percent of white students. Math scores showed a similar gap, though all groups scored better on the Math test than on the English test.
  • The gap in scores between New York City and other urban districts versus so-called “low-need” (read: high income) districts is not just wide, it’s a chasm. On the low-end, only 27.8 percent of students in “large cities” met the proficiency standard in English. In New York City, proficiency was at 43.9 percent. In the “low need” districts, a whopping 75 percent of students were deemed proficient.

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