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Some clues, many question marks in today's test scores release

For the first time in years, the state test scores set for release today are a big question mark.

For many years, it was easy to predict that the annual test score announcement would be an occasion for state and city officials to point to gains. That pattern ended last year when state officials declared that the tests had been too easy and that the grading would change to raise the score needed for a student to be considered “proficient” in math or reading. For weeks before the city’s average proficiency rate fell 26 percentage points in reading and 24 points in math, the public knew that a dropoff was coming.

We have little warning about what today’s news will bring.

Last week, the New York Post reported that insiders at the State Education Department said the newest scores would show a small jump, about 2 percentage points in reading and 4 points in math. That would bring the percentage of city students rated “proficient” to about 44 percent in reading and 65 percent in math, far below the rates reached two years ago under the old scoring system.

But comments made to Crain’s New York by Success Charter Network CEO Eva Moskowitz suggested that not every school saw its scores increase. Comparing this year’s scores to last year’s, Moskowitz told Crain’s, “I think you are going to be looking at a similar or potentially even worse situation.”

Schools have had their students’ scores results since Thursday but were not allowed to share them publicly.

Four things to note when the new scores are discussed today, first by state officials at 11 a.m. and later by Mayor Bloomberg at a press conference at city Department of Education headquarters:

  • What happened to students’ raw scores. The scoring change last year affected only the cutoff score at which students were called proficient, so that students with the same raw scores in 2009 and 2010 were assigned different proficiency ratings. But in New York City, the raw scores themselves remained flat, too.
  • How city students fared compared to students across the state, and in particular to students in four other large cities that are often lumped in with New York City. As good news has become scarcer, Bloomberg has increasingly turned to comparisons to show that city students’ gains outpace students in the rest of the state — or, in last year’s case, that their test score drops were smaller than in other cities.
  • How Bloomberg fits today’s test scores into his school reform story. Bloomberg painted last year’s score dropoff as a chance to “raise the bar” for city students. If raw scores remain flat or close to it, it will be difficult for him to argue that city students have improved under the new scoring system.
  • How individual students are affected. Each score factored into the state and city averages announced today belongs to an individual student whose next steps in school could hinge on the new data. Last year, 10,000 city students were wrongly told they had passed or failed state tests, and nearly 2,000 were told they could skip the last week of summer school because they hadn’t had to attend in the first place. With scores being released nearly two weeks later this year, most schools have already completed their summer sessions.

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