NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) -- Parents and other New York City education activists are decrying the tests given statewide under tougher new learning standards.
Less than a third of New York students in grades three through eight scored well enough on statewide tests to be considered proficient in math and English last spring, according to results released Wednesday.
However, education officials cautioned that the steep drop from previous years reflected a rise in standards, not a decline in student performance.
Test results showed that 31 percent of students statewide met or exceeded math and English proficiency standards on tests given over six days in April. Last year, 55 percent of students were considered proficient in English and 65 percent met the benchmark in math.
Standardized Test Scores In New York Drop As Expected
This year's tests were far more challenging because they were the first to be aligned with new Common Core learning standards adopted by most states as a way to improve student readiness for college and careers. New York was the second state to align standardized tests with the more rigorous standards. The first, Kentucky, also saw a significant drop in scores.
Angry parents protested outside the Department of Education headquarters, blasting what they called the "misuse'' of tests and demanded the city re-evaluate the standardized testing process.
Rallying parents said the plunging scores should not be used to evaluate their kids, WCBS 880's Rich Lamb reported.
Others blasted the implementation of the Common Core curriculum.
"[It] was brought in quickly, without preparation and proper planning. Teachers didn't have curriculums, didn't have materials until late in the year, some maybe not until the beginning of next year. Yet, our mayor insisted our children be tested," former teacher Porsche Armstrong said.
"Can you imagine a third grader who wakes up in the morning, can't keep his breakfast down, shows up in class, has a teacher just as stressed as he is and all he can do to barely breathe is to think that 'if I can just make it through this morning.' That is not what education is about," another parent said.
"This is not fair. This is not at all what we want. The same way we do evaluations of teachers we want justice and fairness -- we want the same assessment for our children," parent Elzarra Cleveland told CBS 2's Kathryn Brown. "Test scores should be used for the assessment of a child by teachers."
"I felt that a lot of these questions are just so confusing that -- just -- they're asking for the kids to fail," Fifth-grader Jackson Zavala said.
As CBS 2's Vanessa Murdock reported, the teachers' union said this is a sad day for city school students.
"This is a man-made disaster," United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew said.
The union supports the Common Core standards, but said the lack of a curriculum lent itself to tragedy.
"The scores would have dropped this year, but they should not have dropped to this level," Mulgrew added.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg weighed in on the issue Wednesday afternoon.
"Our administration has consistently raised the bar for our students – and given time and support, they have consistently risen to the occasion," Bloomberg said in a press release. "We are confident that they will rise to this challenge – and it's encouraging that our students are out-performing their peers in the other cities around the state. "
Mayor Bloomberg Reacts As Standardized Test Scores In New York Drop As Expected
The mayor added it's not fair to compare this year's scores to prior years because of the tougher requirements.
"It's almost like saying you have a hitter, a batter in the minor leagues who bats .500. You move him to the major leagues, he bats .250. That is not necessarily a worse baseball player," said Bloomberg.
City Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott also had a positive outlook.
"We have known for over a year that a higher bar would initially mean lower scores," Walcott said. "But this change is important, and students, teachers, and schools will not be penalized by the transition."
As 1010 WINS' Stan Brooks reported, Walcott said he is confident that students can rise to the new challenges.
"Your teachers and your city are behind you. These changes are meant to help you learn more, and have more successful futures, and we know you can reach this higher bar. It's to prepare you for college and career success," he said.
He also assured students that promotion decisions will not be based on new test results.
"These scores reflect a new baseline and a new beginning,'' Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said. "We have just finished the first year of a dramatic shift in teaching and learning.''
She called the most disheartening finding the persistence of an achievement gap, with 16 percent of African-American students and 18 percent of Hispanic students meeting English standards, compared with 40 percent of white students and 50 percent of Asian students. In math, 15 percent of black students and 18 percent of Hispanic students met learning standards, compared with 38 percent of white students and 60 percent of Asian students.
Education Commissioner John King Jr. said the state was still evaluating whether the achievement gap had widened or narrowed from previous years.
Standardized Test Scores In NY Expected To Drop
There was also a huge difference in the performance of students in the so-called Big 5 urban school districts, compared with students statewide. In New York City, 26 percent of students were proficient in English and 30 percent in math. In Rochester, just 5 percent of students met or exceeded math and English standards, while 11.5 percent of Buffalo students met English standards and 10 percent reached the milestone in math. In Syracuse, 9 percent were proficient in English and 7 percent in math. In Yonkers, 16 percent met the proficiency standard in English and 14.5 percent in math.
The tests traditionally have been used to measure student and school performance. But student growth on the tests is also now a universal factor in teacher and principal evaluations that New York requires from each of its 700 districts.
King said because of the changing standards, this year's tests would not be used to label any new districts or schools as failing.
"The assessment results today establish a new baseline for student performance and student learning in New York State," King said. "Changes in scores do not mean that schools have taught less or that students have learned less."
Angry Parents Protest As Standardized Test Scores In NY Drop As Expected
In a statement, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said of the numbers:
"New York is taking the right step forward in giving our children a true college and career-ready education. Today's scores are a reflection of more rigorous expectations and higher standards as the assessments are now aligned to mark and measure what it truly takes to prepare students to succeed in our global economy. This shift in standards gives teachers room to implement innovative techniques, and gives students an opportunity to emphasize problem-solving and critical thinking.
"But none of this will happen overnight. Shifting to college and career ready standards is a long-term investment that will pay off in the years and decades to come. Leaders in New York City and across the state are doing the right thing by helping lead the country from a status quo of giving passes, to a culture that expects more and challenges all of us to do better by our students."
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