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UFT predicts small gains ahead of next week's test score release

Schools won’t know for sure how their students performed on last spring’s state tests until next week, but that hasn’t stopped the teachers union’s speculation.

The United Federation of Teachers jumped into the prediction game on Friday with a five-page memo that forecasts a small overall improvement in both math and English scores.

Last year, 29 percent of city students who took the tests were deemed proficient in math and 26 percent were proficient in English, one-year drops of 30 and 20 points, respectively. The steep plunge was widely anticipated because of new tests aligned to the Common Core standards.

The UFT’s “reasonable guess” for this year is that proficiency rates will jump by two points in reading and writing, to 28 percent, and three points in math, to 33 percent. It attributes that to teachers having greater familiarity with the tests and having a full year with appropriate curriculum materials.

But the union also suggests that politics could play a heavy hand in the results as well.

State education officials have been under heavy criticism because of last year’s test scores and they now have “a strong interest in showing improvement after coming under sustained fire,” union officials wrote. (A panel of teachers, administrators and professors set the passing scores and Commissioner John King can either accept or reject their recommendations.) Too big of an improvement, however, “would suggest manipulation,” union officials write.

King has accepted the panel’s recommendations for the past two years and defended the cut-scoring process, as it’s known, as more transparent than before he took over as schools chief. State education officials declined to comment on UFT’s memo.

The union’s “backgrounder” emails ahead of test score releases are a recurring tradition, but this year’s toned-down version reflects both the City Hall’s close relationship with the union and the fact that this year’s tests won’t see such dramatic drops, unlike last year when the Common Core-aligned exams made their debut.

Last year, the UFT used the expected drops to slam the education legacy of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who consistently said his job performance should be judged by student achievement data. (New York City ended up outperforming many other districts.)

*State officials raised the bar for “proficient” means. ** New Common Core-aligned tests. *** UFT’s forecast for 2013-2014 scores.
*State officials raised the bar for “proficient” means. ** New Common Core-aligned tests. *** UFT’s forecast for 2013-2014 scores.

“More Bad News Likely for Bloomberg,” the UFT’s 2013 headline read.

For this year’s tests, which came in the middle of a school year that straddled a mayoral transition from Bloomberg to Bill de Blasio, the union is taking a decidedly more measured tone. Its headline this year read “State Test Results Forecast.”

The tests have decidedly lower stakes than in previous years. In New York City, students won’t be made to repeat a grade primarily because of their testing performance, while most teachers and principals won’t be negatively impacted on evaluations as a result of their students’ scores.

The UFT isn’t the only education stakeholder readying their constituencies for the imminent release of the test scores.

The state teachers union announced on Friday that it would be demonstrating outside the State Education Department building in “protest against privatization.” In their crosshairs is testing giant Pearson, which has a $32 million contract with the state to create the grades three through eight math and English exams.

Schools are also bracing for the results, although principals this week downplayed the scrutiny. Emolior Academy Principal Derick Spaulding said that he’s hoping that higher scores will naturally follow another year of working with the Common Core.

“When they’re given any assessment, they should do relatively well by default because they’re already addressing a lot of what Common Core is asking them to do,” Spaulding said.

“I just hope that my kids show growth and that’s the main thing,” Anne Marie Malcolm, of the School of Business, Finance and Entrepreneurship in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

In past years, Bloomberg battled the union’s attempts to interpret the test scores in their favor. This year, a city spokeswoman did not comment directly on the union’s takeaways.

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