By Carolyn Thompson
BUFFALO (AP) — 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, but 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.
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.
"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.
Commissioner John King Jr. said the state was still evaluating whether the achievement gap had widened or narrowed from previous years.
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.