2011-08-12 / Community

Test Scores Up Slightly, But Most Still Fail

By Howard Schwach

The results are in and they show that city students posted modest gains on elementary and middle school statewide tests this year, showing more improvement than students in the state as a whole and in New York State’s other large cities, officials said Monday. That’s the good news. The bad news is that test scores in the city and the state remained far below where they were two years ago, when lowered cut score levels made it seem that an education miracle might be at work.

At one local school, Intermediate School 53 in Far Rockaway, for example, the school went from an A grade with the great majority of students achieving at a proficient level, to a C grade, with fewer than 30 percent of its students testing on a proficient level.

Grades for individual schools had not been posted by mid-week but The Wave will publish them as soon as they become available.

State officials toughened scoring last year after determining that the tests had become too easy to pass.

This year, 57 percent of students in third through eighth grade in the city passed the statewide math tests, compared with 54 percent in 2010. Less than half of the city’s third- through eighth-grade students achieved proficiency in English — 44 percent this year, compared with 42 percent last year.

Statewide, English scores remained flat at 53 percent. There were small gains in math, with 63 percent of students passing, up from 61 percent last year.

In 2009, however, with lowered cut scores on both tests, 82 percent of New York City students were proficient in math and 69 percent in English. Statewide, 86 percent passed math, 77 percent English.

The cut score, officials say, is the number of right answers necessary to reach a given educational level, in this case, Level 3.

At one time, prior to 2009, records show, the cut score on the eighth grade English Language Arts exam, for example, went from more than 40 right answers necessary to reach Level 3 to 21 right answers necessary to reach that level.

Dropping the cut score made it more likely for students to achieve that proficient level, education officials say, providing a false sense that achievement was really going through the roof.

In some areas this year, performance continued to decline. In both the city and the state, far fewer students achieved the highest score in English — a 4. And seventh- and eighth-graders showed small drops in English.

A gap between black and Hispanic students and their white peers remained “persistently intransigent,” said Merryl H. Tisch, chancellor of the Board of Regents. In the city, for example, 34.8 percent of black students were proficient in English, compared with 66 percent of white students, mirroring patterns across the state.

The state’s performance, Dr. Tisch said, “should lead the public to a deep understanding that you can redesign the bureaucracy, you can polish the floors in the classroom, but if you don’t deal with the underlying issues,” like poverty and improving the curriculum and teaching, “things will not change.”

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has repeatedly said that the change in the passing rates on the tests is a result of a more ambitious state goal and does not represent a decline in student achievement. On Monday, he emphasized that the city’s gains were larger than the state’s at a time when the tests became harder, and said the city’s teachers, students and principals should be proud.

“We still have a long way to go, of course we do,” he said. “But we are certainly going in the right direction.”

Zakiyah Ansari, a parent advocate with the Coalition for Educational Justice, disagreed, saying in an interview that the mayor was missing the bigger picture — that achievement remained unacceptably low among black and Hispanic students. “There is a crisis, and they need to acknowledge this crisis,” she said.

Questions were added to assess whether students were performing above grade level. As a result, only 3.5 percent of students across the state achieveda4inEnglish,downfrom10 percent last year. In the city, even top schools showed erosions in top scorers in English. At Anderson, a school for gifted students on the Upper West Side, 34 percent of students earned a 4, down from 60 percent last year. Citywide, roughly11,000studentsscoreda4in English, down from 30,000 last year.

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