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In Times' test score coverage, two ledes and two stories

The New York Times appears to have gone with two different versions of the math scores story. The beginning of the story that made it online yesterday takes a more critical look at the scores, emphasizing Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch’s cautious stance. However, the first several paragraphs in the version that ran in print today (which, yes, had to be pointed out to us by someone over 40) highlight the city’s math score gains and quote Mayor Bloomberg celebrating the news as evidence of his administration’s success. Further down, today’s story includes the voices of experts who questioned the significance of the results, which yesterday’s story did not have. Both were bylined by education reporter Javier Hernandez — his response is below.

Monday’s online version:

New York City’s public school students showed large gains on state math
tests this year, particularly in the middle school grades, the State
Education Department announced on Monday. But officials cautioned that the
results could be overstated and said that the state was considering making
it harder to pass the tests.

In New York City, 82 percent of students in grades three through eight
passed the test, compared with 74 percent last year. Statewide, 86 percent
of students passed the test this year, compared with 81 percent last year.

The performance gains in city schools matched trends across the state, with
school districts in Buffalo, Rochester, Yonkers and Syracuse showing
increases of similar sizes.

At a news conference in Albany, the chancellor of the state’s Board of
Regents, Merryl H. Tisch, said there was reason for caution amid the
impressive results. She said the state was considering raising the score
required to pass the tests in all grade levels next year.

Today’s print copy (and now online):

New York City’s public school students showed large gains on state math
tests this year, particularly in the middle school grades, and black and
Hispanic students continued to edge closer to their white counterparts, the
city and state education departments announced on Monday.

In New York City, 82 percent of students in Grades 3 through 8 passed the
test, compared with 74 percent last year and just 57 percent three years
ago. Statewide, 86 percent of students passed the test, compared with 81
percent last year.

The results, coupled with similar gains on English tests released last
month, were a boon for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who is lobbying Albany to
keep control of city schools in the mayor’s hands.

At a news conference at a school in the Bronx, Mr. Bloomberg trumpeted the
results as evidence that mayoral control had produced revolutionary
improvements and brought city students within spitting distance of state
averages after years of mediocrity.

“Our reforms are working,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “Our schools are heading in
the right direction.”

Update: Hernandez writes: “Our ultimate goal is to produce the most accurate, fair, and nuanced stories for our readers, and that involves a certain amount of metamorphosis from web to print.” “And Dr. Tisch’s words of warning and her call for more rigorous standards still appeared prominently on the front page of the newspaper. These tweaks and additions were a natural part of the editing process that led to what we believe was a stronger story.”

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