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With 2015 state test results on the way, attention shifts to opt-outs, new commissioner

New York’s state test results will be released next week, according to state officials — an announcement likely to focus more attention on the state’s growing opt-out movement.

The state’s English and math tests are typically taken by about one million third- through eighth-graders statewide, though that number is expected to be lower this year. They are also the first state tests taken during a full school year under Mayor Bill de Blasio, and will offer a chance for new State Commissioner MaryEllen Elia to wade into one of the most heated debates in education.

“I will simply say, it’s one of the things we judge ourselves by,” de Blasio said Thursday, referring to the scores. “It’s not the only thing.”

A spokeswoman for the State Education Department said results could be released as early as Tuesday. The release typically includes statewide breakdowns of scores for students and results for specific schools.

This year was the third year since officials adjusted New York’s assessments to align with the Common Core standards. Proficiency rates dropped precipitously after the first round of Common Core-aligned tests in 2013, then inched up in 2014. But another year has done little to quell anxiety about testing and the standards, which grew in New York City but was most concentrated in other parts of the state.

An estimated 200,000 students opted out of taking the exams as New York’s anti-testing movement hit record highs. Most city students took the tests, but a number of suburban school districts that historically performed well on state assessments saw high percentages of students skip them, which could muddy efforts to determine statewide student progress.

“For me, and for many of us, even though test scores are coming out — it doesn’t matter,” said Jia Lee, a teacher at the Earth School in the East Village, where she estimated that eight in 10 eligible students opted out. “We know what our students know, and we know how our children did this past year from all of the work we do with students’ families.”

Last year, just over 35 percent of students statewide were considered proficient in math, up five percentage points from 2013, and just over 31 percent of students were considered proficient in English, roughly the same as the previous year. New York City posted larger gains, with math proficiency rates increasing from 29 percent to 34 percent and English proficiency rates increasing from 26 percent to 28 percent.

Next week’s results will offer hints to teachers about parts of their evaluation ratings. Though they won’t have access to individual students’ scores, they will be able to see how students at each grade level at their school performed.

Teacher “growth scores,” the figures that come from student performance data and count for at least 20 percent of a teacher evaluation, will be released by Sept. 1, state officials said.

The results will also offer new fodder for advocates looking to critique city and state education policy. The United Federation of Teachers, which has supported de Blasio on education but sparred with state officials, has not yet released its annual pre-release analysis.

But StudentsFirstNY, an advocacy group that is often critical of the mayor, said in a memo to reporters this week that it will be paying close attention to changes to achievement gaps between black and Hispanic students and their white and Asian peers. The group also said it will be highlighting the schools where few or no students are deemed proficient in either math or English.

Schools with low proficiency rates will once again draw attention to the de Blasio administration’s school-turnaround program, where the city is adding academic supports and boosting budgets resources to do in hopes of improving them. Of 94 schools in the program, 65 are elementary or middle schools that will have test results.

This year’s test scores will reflect the first full school year after de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Fariña took over the school system. The state legislature recently granted de Blasio just a one-year extension of mayoral control, meaning the test scores will be one of the only standard academic metrics that lawmakers or de Blasio will be able to point to from his tenure when a renewal of the mayoral control law comes up again next year.

On Thursday, de Blasio said test scores should be just one of many measures used to evaluate students, teachers, and schools. That principle, he said, should apply to his performance as well.

“But it’ll certainly be one of the things we judge our work on,” he said.

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