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Bronx beep targets low test scores

Somehow, much to the dismay of parents, teachers, city officials and education policymakers, New York City schools saw a harrowing drop in test scores in the 2009-2010 school year. Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. wants something done about that.

Scores dropped dramatically from 82% of 3rd-8th graders passing — that is, receiving a mark of “level 1 proficiency” — in the math test last year to 54% this year. That was a 28-point drop. Reading tests saw almost the exact same drop, falling 27 points from 69% passing the reading test last year to 42% this year.

Those are the citywide numbers, but as Diaz pointed out while giving testimony on Monday, September 27 at a meeting of the New York City Council Education Committee, there is a more borough-specific problem here, too.

“The Bronx numbers for ELL [English Language Learners] students on both the State Math and ELA tests are at crisis proportions.” 44% of Bronx ELL students scored at the lowest level of proficiency or higher in the ELA tests.

Due to the low numbers across the city and state, not merely in the Bronx, Diaz requested, in front of the entire Education Committee, special hearings be held across New York that investigate the drop.

Some experts have noted that the new, stricter standards are in fact not new at all, but are the same standards as existed before the city reverted to lower standards over the past few years to bump scores. This would mean that children are no less capable, the test has merely become more difficult. But it also means that in the past few years, students have appeared to be at higher levels than they actually are, because standards were lowered for a time.

“If so,” Diaz responds to this line of argument, “then why did [the DOE] continue to promote these tremendous gains when they knew that the State had in essence lowered the bar?”

None of it matters to Diaz, other than the fact that, “Plain and simple,” he said, “in the short answer portion of the text the raw scores were lower, in some cases dramatically.”

Senate Education Chair Suzi Oppenheimer has agreed to hold a hearing on these matters, but Diaz wants more, and said so at the meeting.

“I believe,” he concluded, “that the magnitude of these findings requires that hearings not only occur in Manhattan, but throughout the state.”

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