Possibly taking a cue from today’s New York Times editorial, Chancellor Joel Klein took to the airwaves today to try and explain the drop in scores.

On WNYC, host Brian Lehrer asked Klein when he knew that the state math and reading tests had become too easy and why he continued to trumpet the yearly score increases. Klein defended the way the city discussed test scores, saying the mayor began calling for tougher standards in 2006. He added that whenever the city called press conferences to announce the test scores, “we always put it in context.”

Anyone who sat through those announcements likely remembers that over time, Klein began to emphasize comparisons of the city’s scores to the rest of the state’s scores, rather than focus on the proficiency rates alone. But unlike state officials, he did not caution parents that their children’s scores were inflated.

Last year, while Mayor Bloomberg told the New York Times “It’s time for a celebration,” State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch was full of warning. At the time she said:

“While on the face of things scores may be going up, a system where proficiency means you have at best even odds of not graduating, and will probably need remedial education, this is not a victory that we are defining in New York State.”

The following is a snippet of Klein’s exchange with Lehrer:

Lehrer: But then were you making claims of success based on the previous numbers, 69 percent, 82 percent, knowing on some level that they were a sham?

Klein: No but what we did time and again, Brian, is always compare New York City to the rest of the state and to other big cities.  So we always said, whether the tests got harder or easier, and there were arguments all over the place, we always said two things: that compared to everyone else New York City’s progress was indisputable.

If you look at the overall scores, if you look at the number of kids who are performing well in New York compared to other cities and the rest of the state. Second thing we said though is we need to raise them. We don’t set those benchmarks and the state does, but when we say under federal law and under state law that a certain number of kids are proficient, I think we are allowed to report that in good faith. By the same token, we were out there early saying raise the bar and the question becomes inevitably why did other people wait the time they waited.

Lehrer: In good faith you could trumpet the scores that you thought were less than 100 percent meaningful? Did you?  I don’t know. Did you have news conferences in 2009 saying, “Hey look we got 82 percent on the math passing?”

Klein: We did, but we always put it in context. You never saw us say…because this argument are the state tests too easy, are they too hard… And we were very clear about this: look at our gains compared to other large cities that are comparable to us in New York and compared at the rest of the state.

The chancellor also claimed that the city had closed the graduation gap — the disparity between black and Hispanic students’ graduation rate versus that of white and Asian students.

“We’ve closed the achievement gap with respect to graduation rates,” he said.

Perhaps the chancellor meant to say “closing” rather than “closed.” At best, the city’s graduation gap has slightly narrowed. In 2005, an average of 39 percent of black and Hispanic students were graduating from high school, compared to 65 percent of whites and Asians, a gap of 26 percentage points. Now the gap is 22 points.

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