Third- through eighth-grade students in Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties experienced a sharp decline in ELA and math scores this year, according to results released Wednesday.
This is because the tests, which were administered in April, were the first to be based on the state's new Common Core learning standards-providing a benchmark for future evaluations.
In Chautauqua County, the upper grades had a stronger performance in both areas than Cattaraugus County, while the lower grades were outscored in both. Chautauqua County's ELA scores for third through eighth grade, respectively, are: 20.5 percent, 24.2 percent, 22.1 percent, 24.1 percent, 27.1 percent and 32.1 percent. The math scores for third through eighth grade, respectively, are: 25.1 percent, 31.2 percent, 20.1 percent, 20.2 percent, 19.9 percent and 18.8 percent.
New York state Commissioner of Education John King Jr., left, talks about standardized test scores Wednesday during a news conference,in New York. 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.
The results from Cattaraugus County are largely uniform throughout, with the exception of seventh- and eighth-grade math scores. The ELA scores for third through eighth grade, respectively, are: 27.1 percent, 23.5 percent. 24 percent, 27.3 percent, 26 percent and 30.7 percent. The math scores for third through eighth grade, respectively, are: 30.5 percent, 26.3 percent, 22.8 percent, 24.8 percent, 17.5 percent and 17.6 percent.
These numbers, however, are consistent with findings throughout the rest of New York state. Less than a third of New York students in grades three through eight scored well enough on the statewide tests to be considered proficient in math and English, but education officials cautioned that the steep drop from previous years reflected a rise in standards, not a decline in student performance.
New York is only the second state, after Kentucky, to test students based on the more rigorous Common Core learning standards adopted by most states as a way to improve student readiness for college and careers - something state Education Commissioner John King Jr. called key to the country's economic competitiveness and "the future of our democracy."
Even before the results were released, King, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and others advised parents and students not to be alarmed by a decline in scores.
"These results in many ways are not a surprise," King told reporters on a conference call from New York City.
The new standards made this year's tests far more challenging, requiring students to write more, think more and do more problem-solving, the commissioner said.
The 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 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.
In New York City this year, 26 percent of students were proficient in English and 30 percent in math.
Individual student scores won't be released for weeks, but Elzora Cleveland was already bracing for the possibility of bad news. Standing among about two dozen parents and other education activists protesting high-stakes testing outside the New York City Education Department, Cleveland said she is not sure whether she will show her daughter her scores if they are low.
"I don't want my child to feel like, 'Do I really belong here? I didn't really do that well coming out of middle school,'" she said. "It hurts my heart to think that I need to tell my child, 'You did good. You did OK. But according to the standards, you actually don't make the cut.'"
King said the 2013 scores should be viewed as a baseline and would not be used to label any new districts or schools as failing. Scores should be only part of any decision to hold back students, he said.
The scores serve "as a reminder that standardized testing has limitations and that results must be used thoughtfully, judiciously and in context for students and teachers," said New York State United Teachers President Richard Iannuzzi.
The state's decided to test on the standards during the first year they were being taught, even as districts, teachers and parents complained they had been rolled out unevenly. The scores reflect the inadequate time some teachers had to prepare, New York State School Boards Association President Timothy Kremer said.
King defended the move.
"It is very difficult to persuade people to implement these standards when you're giving assessments based on the old standards," he said.
Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch, head of the state's education policy-making body, was disheartened by a persistent achievement gap: 16 percent of African-American students and 18 percent of Hispanic students met 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.
Among students with disabilities, 5 percent achieved the English standard and 7 percent met the math target.
There was also a huge difference among most of the state's urban school districts, compared with districts statewide. In Rochester, 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 were proficient in English and 14.5 percent in math.