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Racial Gap Persists as School Test Scores Edge Up

By  Amy Zimmer and Nigel Chiwaya | August 12, 2015 3:08pm 

 Mayor Bill de Blasio said school test scores had increased during a press conference at P.S. 19 Asher Levy on Aug. 12, 2015.
Mayor Bill de Blasio said school test scores had increased during a press conference at P.S. 19 Asher Levy on Aug. 12, 2015.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

MANHATTAN — New York City's third through eighth graders scored slightly higher this year on the state's math and English exams, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Wednesday.

Roughly 35 percent of students met proficiency standards in math, up from roughly 34 percent last year, officials said. About 30 percent met proficiency standards in English, up from 28 percent the year before.

"It shows things are changing," de Blasio said. "They are changing for the better."

He also noted that it was the second year in a row that scores have increased.

Yet, while gains in English mirrored last year's 2 percentage point increase, this year's math gains were smaller at 1 percentage point compared to a 4-point gain the year before.

"The goal is at 100 percent proficiency, but we are very struck by the consistency of these gains," de Blasio added, noting that the tests, which are aligned to the Common Core standards, are among the highest education standards in the nation.

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De Blasio also touted that "nearly every cross section of our students" made gains including students across all racial groups.

The percentage of Asian students who were proficient in the English Language Arts, for instance, rose to 52.5 percent this year, up 3 points from last year, and the percent of white students who were proficient rose 2 points to 51.3 percent.

But the racial gap persisted, with black and Hispanic students continuing to lag behind, making smaller gains. There were 19.8 percent Hispanic students who were proficient in ELA, up 1.6 points; 19 percent of black students were proficient, up 1 percent from last year.

"That gap will be addressed," de Blasio said, noting he expects more progress in this realm as the city "deepens" efforts with Universal pre-K, after school for middle school and other programs.

UFT president Michael Mulgrew praised the scores.

"We’re seeing progress, particularly in reading, thanks to a city administration that really cares about student learning, increased availability of appropriate curriculum and training, and hard work by teachers and students," he said in a statement.

De Blasio stressed that his administration has worked to tone down the emphasis on high stakes testing, by abolishing the letter grade system for schools based on test scores and by making promotion to the next grade dependent on multiple measures.

"No child is the sum of its test scores; no school is the sum of its test scores," he said.

At the same time, however, "We also can say this is the universal measure in this state," he said of the exams. 

And while he believed that families who opted out of testing were "motivated by honest feelings," the movement has "unintended consequences."

Among the city's more than 400,000 students in grades three to eight, fewer than 2 percent opted out of the state tests, which was a much lower figure than the state's 20 percent opt out rate.

"I don't believe in opt out," Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said. "I believe that everyone needs to be assessed."

She added, "The message to parents is without assessments, we don't know how to help and target kids who need support."