Samita Rahaman, an M.S. 101 eighth grader, told a city official why she hadn’t been able to access her test scores.

Carolina Martinez was shocked when she logged on to the city’s student data system on Monday to see her daughter’s fifth-grade state test scores.

Sitting at a computer station at the Parkchester Library in the Bronx, with a Department of Education staff member at her side, Martinez said she saw that her daughter, Stephanie Bravo, had gotten 1′s in math and reading — the lowest scores possible.

The bad news came as a surprise because Stephanie had gotten much higher scores, 3′s and 4′s, as a fourth-grader at P.S. 106 in 2012, Martinez said, and her teacher last year said Stephanie was doing well.

Leaving the library, Martinez said she didn’t understand why Stephanie’s scores had fallen so far. She said she hadn’t heard that the state had adopted new standards, known as the Common Core, to propel students toward college readiness.

That wasn’t the outcome that department officials hoped for when they fanned out to libraries across the five boroughs this week for “Log On and Learn” events aimed at helping parents access and interpret their children’s scores. 

The department has held similar events for the past two years to help parents overcome technical difficulties to access ARIS ParentLink, the data system for parents where individual students’ scores were uploaded over the weekend. This year, the department added more staff at the events because of the added goal of explaining the new, often lower scores and the Common Core context behind them, which they did with the assistance of reams of pamphlets in multiple languages.

Before the test scores came out last month, city officials warned that they were likely to be far lower than in the past because of the new standards. This week, Chancellor Dennis Walcott took to the airwaves to reassure New Yorkers about what they would see when they logged into ARIS.

“These scores represent a new higher tougher standard, and that’s important,” Walcott said on the Brian Lehrer Show on Monday. He added, “We understand it will be a shock.”

It was a theme reiterated to parents at the Parkchester Library, who mostly spoke limited English and communicated with department staff with the help of their children or Nasima Akhter, a Bengali interpreter hired by the department.

“They told her not to worry because the standards are new,” Akhter said about another mother who learned that her son’s scores were lower this year than last year. “It’s not only her son who got a 2, because the tests are harder now.”

Carolina Martinez says she was surprised to see her daughter's scores plummet this year.
Carolina Martinez says she was surprised to see her daughter’s scores plummet this year.

Akhter said the Common Core came up in some but not all of the conversations between parents and department staff. Some parents, she said, only asked how to log onto the system or retrieve lost passwords and didn’t learn about the new standards.

But even students who didn’t know the name “Common Core” said they had noticed a change in the tests.

Rakih Ishraq, who is entering fifth grade at P.S. 106, said the tests were harder this year, but that his scores improved. “Maybe because the teachers went harder on the lessons so I would really learn,” he said. Ishraq translated for his mother, who immigrated from Bangladesh in 2000.

Samita Rahaman, a rising eighth grader at M.S. 101, said she had heard about the Common Core from her teachers.

“They said they made new standards, the Common Core,” she said. “To me the [reading test] seemed sort of messy. Half of the school didn’t finish [the test], and there was crying and tantrums.” Rahaman said that when time was called her essay was only half done.

Rahaman’s mother, Nilima, had deactivated the e-mail address linked to her ARIS account, so Rahaman hadn’t been able to see her scores. For a few minutes it looked like department officials wouldn’t be able to help, because only Rahaman’s father’s name was in the system, and he was at work and wouldn’t get home until midnight. Rahaman said she often translates for her mother and that people aren’t always understanding of the constraints of her father’s work schedule.

In this case, though, the family eventually got online and found good news — two fours, despite the unfinished essay. Rahaman said she was satisfied with the department officials who staffed the event, despite the snafus.

“I think our voices showed some aggression,” she said. “But they were very polite and sophisticated.”

Parents who aren’t able to log in online and can’t make one of this week’s events can ask at their schools when school opens, officials said.