Well, the scores are in. Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decade-plus of dabbling in the New York City public school system has resulted in what some are declaring to be an abysmal failure.
As New York City’s 2013 standardized test scores were released on Wednesday, Bloomberg’s Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott was telling parents to brace themselves for the incredibly awful test scores and not to be alarmed.
Parents, students and general observers are alarmed.
New York City’s first Common Core standardized test scores had the city stunned. The report showed that only 55.1 percent of all students in grades three through eight met or exceeded the standard in English. In math, only 64.8 percent met or surpassed the bare minimum needed to pass the examination.
Only 46.1 percent of African-Americans in New York passed or scored highly on the math examination, and 37.2 percent of African-Americans passed or scored highly in English.
“High standards are what we as parents have for our children, but we have been sold a bad bill of goods with Bloomberg’s testing obsession. We demand the DOE not use these tests scores for more high-stakes consequences and call on the next mayor to investigate whether or not any progress has been made in the last decade. It’s clear our students have not been given the college-ready education they deserve,” said Zakiyah Ansari, spokesperson for New Yorkers for Great Public Schools.
“We have known for over a year that a higher bar would initially mean lower scores,” said Walcott. “But this change is important, and students, teachers and schools will not be penalized by the transition. With an unprecedented amount of support being provided, I have full confidence that schools will effectively take on this challenge and students will reach this higher bar, as they have many times before.”
With the new, largely unexplained and somewhat unannounced Common Core State Standards sweeping the nation’s public schools, there seems to be more instances for confusion. Since Bloomberg took over the reins of the Department of Education, his push for the colocation of charter schools and school closures, the Cathy Black debacle and conflicting annual test scores have led United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew to call Bloomberg’s reign a “decade of disaster.”
“New York City public schools’ reportedly dismal results on the new state tests send a clear message: Mayor Bloomberg and his Tweed cronies have been cooking the books on student test scores for 12 years,” said City Comptroller John C. Liu, slamming the new state Common Core test scores. “Pointing to rising high school graduation rates, the mayor claimed that high stakes testing was leading to greater student achievement and teacher accountability. He excoriated teachers and others who pointed out the flaws in his analysis.
In fact, the regime of teaching to the tests pushed kids out the schoolhouse door, even if their diplomas were worthless and their skills did not permit them to succeed in college or jobs. Mayor Bloomberg had 12 years to advance his so-called reforms and pad his educational legacy. He failed. He cannot spin these results to mean something they don’t. New York City’s children deserve better.”
“It should come to as surprise to those of us active in the public education arena that the high stakes test scores of our New York City children have seriously declined this past year,” charged Sam Anderson, a retired New York City professor of mathematics and Black history.
A parent of two grown sons who have successfully navigated the New York City public school system, Anderson said, “Parents were left out of the loop. If they knew anything about this Common Core switcharoo—and 99 percent did not know—all they were supposed to do was to go online and read about the wonders of the Common Core and trust [U.S. Secretary of Education] Arne Duncan and Dennis BloomCott to bring out the brilliance in their sons and daughters.”
“Our administration has consistently raised the bar for our students—and given time and support, they have consistently risen to the occasion,” said Bloomberg. “We are confident that they will rise to this challenge, and it’s encouraging that our students are out-performing their peers in the other cities around the state. In addition, they are closing the gap with students in the rest of the state, something few people thought possible a decade ago. The new Common Core curriculum, as it is phased in, will empower students to achieve at higher levels in the years ahead and graduate high school ready for college and careers.”
Mayoral candidate and Public Advocate Bill de Blasio stated, “This is a major wake-up call. We can’t keep working at the margins and focusing on a handful of niche schools. We need a game-changer to raise outcomes for kids across the board. Comprehensive early education is the only way to achieve it. That’s why I’ve laid out a plan to raise taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers to fund truly universal pre-K for every child in New York City and to expand after-school programs. Investing in an early start and keeping kids on grade level through those early years is the only way to overcome crippling educational disparities.”
“This is a man-made disaster. It should not have been,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew. “The Common Core standards are something teachers fully embrace and support. They are harder, but when used properly will teach reasoning, critical thinking skills, things that children need to move forward. The scores would have dropped this year, but they should not have dropped to this level. We knew three years ago that this state was moving to the Common Core tests. We have been asking for curriculum based on the new standards since that point. This mayor chose to ignore all of our pleas. Many teachers still don’t have a curriculum to develop the lesson plans they need for their classes.”
At Tweed Courthouse in Manhattan on Wednesday, Walcott, state Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch and state Education Commissioner John King said that everything was on course. In a statement the DOE proclaimed that test results from the new Common Core math and English tests were as they were because the new tests are “far more rigorous than any previous test in New York state, and new tests set a far higher bar for student proficiency in reading and math, establishing a new baseline for measurement of student performance. The new tests, supported by the Obama Administration, for the first time measure whether students are prepared to succeed in college and careers in today’s economy, as opposed to measuring whether they are on track to graduate high school. Under the new, more rigorous test, 29.6 percent of students met proficiency standards in math and 26.5 percent of students met the standards in English. The results show New York City public school students outperformed their peers in the other large urban school districts in New York state and continue to close the gap between New York City students and students in the rest of the entire state.”
“New York is taking the right step forward in giving our children a true college, and career-ready education. Today’s scores are a reflection of more rigorous expectations and higher standards as the assessments are now aligned to mark and measure what it truly takes to prepare students to succeed in our global economy,” said Duncan.
According to the DOE, across the city, 15.3 percent of Black students met the proficiency standards in math, a higher proficiency rate than all students in the four other large urban cities in New York state. The percentage of Black students who were proficient in English in New York City was 16.3 percent, which is higher than the English proficiency for all students in three of four other large urban districts. The DOE said that starting the week of Aug. 26, the public can learn more about the new tests at arisparentlink.org.
But Anderson calls the Common Core States Standards program a part of an “educational genocide” that does not give a holistic, comprehensive or culturally relevant curriculum to the city’s 1.1 million public school students. A member of the Coalition for Public Education and Black New Yorkers for Educational Excellence, Anderson, who has taught at various colleges and universities for more than 40 years, has called on education activists to fight for the future of the city’s public school students. Anderson, who is also the co-founder of the National Black Education Agenda, held a panel this past Sunday (including this journalist and parent of public school children) discussing Common Core State Standards and how he felt it would decimate education as we know it.
Anderson said that folks should not be surprised that the test scores were so atrocious. “Because we have had a perfect storm for high stakes disasters to take place, we have had the highest number of poorly trained and culturally alienated TFA [Teach for America] new teachers in history. We have had the fervent build-up of a test-anxiety-ridden school culture that has resulted in thousands of students with related physical and mental ailments. We have had a bewildering number of Common Core State Standards goals and objectives unexplained and a vague set of rules and curricula content that forced in-class/in-school revisings to happen all year long with no help from the Tweed Educrats—just pontificating pronouncements about the ‘wonders and value of the Common Core’ [and] workshops and seminars for teachers that were ‘full of sound and fury … signifying nothing’ … leaving thousands of our teachers more bewildered than before these ‘Learning About CCSS’ sessions.”
According to Anderson, adding to the confusion was a curriculum of exclusion, with the standard Euro-American cultural references, the “erosion of ELL [English Language Learners] education to the point of being a symbolic gesture rather than an integral part of a child’s learning experience,” and the disregard for the fact that “New York City now has a majority of students of African descent who are either first generation U.S. or were born outside of the U.S. Their cultures and intellectual contributions to civilization are not even discussed. They are very alienated from the content of these exams.”
Anderson noted that these abyssmal scores “can be used as ammo in our fight to get the state legislative body to repeal the buy-in to the Common Core State Standards and to offer an alternative and more productive forms of assessment of our children’s academic development. We have the expertise and experience and the track record to offer a viable alternative to the corporatized and Eurocentric, anti-critical thinking CCSS set of miseducation policies.”