Though the number of city students passing reading and math exams has dropped dramatically under rigorous new state standards, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other officials were optimistic about what the tests represent for students.
"The tests set the bar higher in terms of the skill sets they were expected to have mastered," Bloomberg said Wednesday.
In the city, only 26 percent of third- through eighth-grade students passed exams on English and 30 percent passed math exams. Under last year's easier tests, 47 percent of students passed English and 60 percent passed math.
"It's simply a different measure," Bloomberg said, noting any comparison was like comparing apples to oranges or players in the major and minor leagues.
"We have to make sure that we give our kids constantly the opportunity to move towards the major leagues," he said.
The exams taken this spring were the first in the city aligned with a new, higher set of standards known as the Common Core.
The new standards, which the city has been bracing for since 2010, emphasize critical thinking and better prepare students for college and careers, officials said.
Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott noted that high school graduation rates are no longer the "be-all-end-all."
Moving to the new standards was "gutsy," Bloomberg said, but that "children will benefit from that for many years to come."
Of the state's five biggest cities, New York students had the highest percentage of passing scores. In Buffalo, for instance, only 12 percent of students passed the new English exams and 10 percent passed math.
The gap between English and math scores in the city compared to statewide results has decreased since last year.
"Our teachers are doing a spectacular job," Bloomberg said of the decrease.
Still, parents, advocates and teachers have argued that using test scores to measure students' progress is ineffective.
United Federation of Teacher President Michael Mulgrew said in a statement that "a decade of test prep—rather than real learning—has left New York City school children far behind where they should be."
Bloomberg responded that tests are the best way to know what's working.
"How do you know what you're doing without testing?" he asked.
The new scores also showed that the city still faces a significant racial achievement gap. Half of white students in the city passed math exams, while only 15 percent of black students and 19 percent of hispanic students passed.
Those scores, officials said, were still higher than the average in the next highest cities.
As schools continue to strengthen their curriculums for the new standards, over $100 million will be allocated to teacher development. This summer, 15,000 teachers will attend sessions on Common Core curriculums.
Officials said neither students nor teachers will be evaluated based on this year's scores.
Bloomberg made a point of saying the new standards will help students compete in today's "knowledge" economy. Going from planting seeds to manufacturing is an easier leap, he said.
"Going from the agricultural world to the industrial world is very different than going from the industrial world to the knowledge world," Bloomberg said. "It's going to be one of the great challenges."
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