By Joseph Spector
Albany Bureau Chief
ALBANY Test scores for students in third through eighth grade plunged in the first year of new, tougher standardized tests, education officials announced Wednesday.
Thirty-one percent of New York students in elementary and middle schools were proficient in math and reading on state exams administered last spring, state officials announced Wednesday. That's down from about 65 percent in math and 55 percent in English on exams given in 2012.
The significant drop out was expected after the state Education Department implemented assessments in April based on a new, more challenging curriculum, called the Common Core.
Schools and teachers warned that the results would be significantly lower because of the rushed process that didn't give time for lessons, and the teaching materials weren't widely distributed early in the 2012-13 school year, which ended in June.
State Education Commissioner John King repeatedly stressed that the new results are a "baseline" for future years and shouldn't be viewed as a slide in the performance of teachers and students.
"It's important to emphasize that the changes in scores do not mean that schools have taught less and that students have learned less, but rather reflect this new standard, the Common Core," King said in a conference call with reporters.
But the scores will ultimately be used, in part, to evaluate teachers, creating angst throughout the state and nation. New York is one of 45 states to implement the Common Core standards, part of a national effort pushed by President Obama to increase accountability in schools.
"The results will serve as a baseline to inform instruction going forward, while serving as a reminder that standardized testing has limitations and that results must be used thoughtfully, judiciously and in context for students and teachers," said Richard Iannuzzi, president of the New York State United Teachers union.
Some of the numbers were startling, even if expectations were low.
State Education Commissioner John King said the scores will not negatively impact "district, school, principal, or teacher accountability." He said the results will not lead districts to be targeted by the state for poor performance.
The results showed stark differences among demographics. In wealthy districts, 51 percent passed math test compared to 9 percent in large cities.
Also, only 35 percent of students statewide are deemed college ready when they graduate college. And among black students, the college readiness dropped to 13 percent.
The English exams showed that minority students struggled: 16 percent of black students and 18 percent of Hispanic students met or exceeded the proficiency standard. Five percent of students with disabilities met or exceeded the English standards, and 7 percent met the math proficiency level.
Timothy Kremer, executive director of the state School Boards Association, said schools and students suffered under a rushed process during the first year of testing. Some states have waited until this school year to adopt the Common Core testing, and others are waiting until the 2014-15 school year.
"Some teachers did not have adequate time to prepare to teach to the Common Core, and the scores reflect that," Kremer said. "Instructional modules to guide teachers through the Common Core came out piecemeal. And, unfortunately, schools began implementing these reforms during a time of budget cuts."
In Monroe County, the average passage was 32 percent on both the math and English tests, the state records showed. It was 41 percent in Westchester County and 29 percent in Dutchess County.
The Big 5 city school districts also performed worse that the state average. In Buffalo, 11.5 percent met or exceed the English exams and nearly 10 percent for the math scores.
The numbers were higher in Yonkers: 16.4 percent in English and 14.5 percent in math.
"Educators should not look at the test scores as something negative; we should embrace them as a new starting point," said Yonkers superintendent Bernard Pierorazio in a statement.