NEW YORK CITY — Standardized test scores plummeted among New York City kids this year after the state used tougher math and reading exams pegged to new federal standards.`
According to scores released by the New York State Department of Education on Wednesday, just 26.4 percent of the city's third-through-eighth-grade students passed the English Language Arts test this year, down from 46.9 percent last year. The city's kids also fell short of the state's average 31.1 percent pass rate this year.
Scores also dropped in math, with just 29.6 percent of third-through-eighth graders in the city passing the new standardized tests, down from 60 percent last year. Statewide, 31 percent of students passed the math exam.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and state, city and federal education officials said the lower test scores — the first based on new federal Common Core standards — were not a cause for concern.
Bloomberg defended the scores at a press conference at the Education Department's headquarters Wednesday alongside King, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott and State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, saying that the "much more rigorous" tests were difficult to measure against past tests.
"The only ways we know how to use this year's test to see if they've advanced is to compare them to the rest of the state that has taken the same test," Bloomberg said. "And what we see is that our kids are catching up to the state"
The mayor said the scores show an overall improvement compared to other urban areas in the state. He pointed to New York City's difference from the overall state numbers — 1.4 percentage points below on English and 4.7 on math — versus other cities, such as Rochester, which was 26 percentage points below the state average in both English and math.
Bloomberg said the new tests were similar to a minor league baseball player who batted .500 jumping to the big leagues and hitting .250 in the more difficult environment.
"That is not necessarily a worse baseball player," Bloomberg said. "When you take a look at them and understand them, it's some very good news [in the tests]."
Bloomberg added that the harder new federal standards are "exactly what we need."
Even with the lower scores, school officials pointed to national test results showing what they said was a consistent levels of college preparedness. For example, the number of students deemed proficient in math on the new tests — 29.6 percent — is similar to the 28 percent who measured similarly proficient on the 2011 National Assessment for Educational Progress test, up from 20.5 percent in 2003.
According to the mayor's office, students will not be held back based on the new test results. High-scoring students will continue to have access to screened middle and high schools, even if their scores decreased from past years. According to the city's chief academic officer, Shael Polakow-Suransky, schools will admit students based on their rank on the new tests, allowing students whose scores slipped to still be admitted to the city's top schools.
Additionally, the administration said teacher evaluations this school year will not be negatively impacted by lower scores. The Department of Education pledged to more than double the funds for Common Core-related teacher development, from $50 million to more than $100 million.
Chancellor Tisch praised Bloomberg for embracing the new standards, as well as for working to improve education in the city.
"New York City has set a bar for challenge, and moving into challenge and embracing challenge," Tisch said. "This is a courageous movement in the history of the state and the history of the city."
But critics blasted the scores drop as evidence that Bloomberg's focus on testing and data-driven improvement has not succeeded.
“Mayor Bloomberg could have changed course years ago. He didn't. And he ignored the pleas of parents and teachers who said we were headed in the wrong direction,” said Michael Mulgrew, head of the United Federation of Teachers, in a statement earlier this week. “The result is that once again students and schools are paying the price for the mayor's failed policies.”