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DOE: Budget cuts fuel social studies, science score shortfalls

City schools are scoring higher on state math and reading tests, but they remain near the bottom of all districts statewide on science and social studies tests, a situation that schools officials attribute to budget cuts.

Although social studies and science scores rose last year, they remain very low compared to scores in the rest of the state. Only five of the city’s 32 school districts performed scored at better than the 10th percentile in science, meaning that 90 percent of districts statewide scored better than 27 city districts. In contrast, 18 districts scored at the 10th percentile or higher in math.

Even in high-performing districts, fourth and eighth graders perform poorly on science and social studies tests compared to other students in the state. For example, Manhattan’s District 2 outperformed 86 percent of districts in the state in math. In reading, District 2 students beat out students in 78 percent of districts. But in science, the district scored in just the 27th percentile, meaning that 73 percent of districts had higher average science scores.

The discrepancy, highlighted in the test score comparison tool launched by the New York Times today, gives ammunition to critics who say the city schools have focused so much on math and reading that they have given short shrift to other subjects.

The early years of Mayor Bloomberg’s Children First reforms did focus most heavily on math and reading, a department spokesman said today. Now, the city is trying to boost science and social studies performance by introducing some of the same strategies that worked for math and reading, such as offering a standardized curriculum in each subject, said the spokesman, Will Havemann.

This year, teachers in all grades will have access to citywide science curriculum materials, and teachers in selected grades will be able to use standardized social studies curriculum materials. But the department has for now tabled plans to test the subjects annually and to figure test results into the system’s key accountability tool, the progress report, Havemann said.

The tests, which were originally supposed to start in the 2007-2008 school year for science, have been shelved because of budget constraints, Havemann said. He said the city still hopes to begin holding schools accountable for science and social studies, although he said there is currently no timeline for launching annual testing in those subjects.

“We expect in coming years for the accountability measures to be implemented, and we think that this would spur gains similar to those that we’ve seen in math and reading,” Havemann said.

Jennifer Jennings, the sociologist who has for years critiqued claims about the Bloomberg school reforms, pulled the science and social studies rankings from the database made available by the Times. Her complete database is below.

District test score percentile rankings

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