Under New Standards, Students See Sharp Decline in Test Scores

Javier Hernandez, New York Times, August 7, 2013

The number of New York students passing reading and math exams dropped drastically this year, education officials reported on Wednesday, unsettling parents, principals and teachers, and posing new challenges to a national effort to toughen academic standards.

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The exams were some of the first in the nation to be aligned with a more rigorous set of standards known as Common Core, which emphasize deep analysis and creative problem-solving.

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City and state officials spent months trying to steel the public for the grim figures, saying that a decline in scores was inevitable and that it would take several years before students performed at high levels.

Statewide, 31 percent of students passed the exams in reading and math. Last year, 55 percent passed in reading, and 65 percent in math.

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Chrystina Russell, principal of Global Technology Preparatory in East Harlem, said she did not know what she would tell parents, who will receive scores for their children in late August. At her middle school, which serves a large population of students from poor families, 6.8 percent of students were rated proficient in English, and 9.5 percent in math. Last year, those numbers were 31 percent and 44 percent, respectively.

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After concluding the tests had become too easy, the state made them harder to pass in 2010, resulting in score drops statewide. This year, New York State revamped the tests even more radically.

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State education officials said, however, that they were concerned about the persistent gap between the performance of black and Hispanic students and their white and Asian counterparts. Statewide, 16 percent of black students and 18 percent of Hispanic students passed English exams, compared with 40 percent of white students and 50 percent of Asians.

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Anticipating the outcry, the city and state arranged for the United States secretary of education, Arne Duncan, to participate in a conference call with reporters on Tuesday. In his remarks, Mr. Duncan said the shift to Common Core was a necessary recalibration that would better prepare students for college and the work force.

“Too many school systems lied to children, families and communities,” Mr. Duncan said. “Finally, we are holding ourselves accountable as educators.”

The Common Core standards, which were embraced by the Obama administration as one of the most significant changes to education in modern history, have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia.

New York was one of the first states to develop tests based on the standards. In April, when the exams were introduced, some teachers and principals said they were too difficult, and there were scattered reports of students with anxiety attacks. Some parents, exhausted by the city’s testing regimen, had their children sit out the exams in protest.

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