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Students make incremental progress on Common Core math tests, but English scores remain flat


New York’s school children made incremental progress in math scores, but no gains in English tests, during the second year of Common Core-related exams. Education officials say overall, only around one-third of students actually passed the tests.

In math tests administered to third through eighth graders, just 35.8 percent statewide were considered to meet or exceed the new Common Core standards.

Slightly more than 64 percent, or nearly two-thirds, of New York children did not meet the Common Core standards and failed the tests. The number of those passing was around three points higher than last year, when just 31.2 percent passed.

On the English tests, students statewide only improved by a tenth of a percentage point, from 31.3 percent passing in 2013,  to 31.4 percent in 2014. More than two-thirds of the third through eighth graders were considered only partially proficient or well below proficient in reading and writing.

Nevertheless, education officials say they are encouraged and that things are improving. Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch called it modest, but real progress.

“Students statewide made significant progress in math,” Tisch said.

But she admits that English scores did not improve as much as hoped.

“Let’s be clear, we still have a very long way to go,” Tisch said. “And there is still much more to do.”

Tisch says only slightly more than one-third, or 37.2 percent, of today’s ninth graders will graduate high school and be college or career ready, and most of those who attend higher education institutions will have to take costly remedial classes.

Overall, students from richer schools score higher on the tests. Around half are considered to have passed the exams. But even students in the state’s wealthiest schools saw English exam scores slip a bit, from an average of 52 percent in 2013 passing to 49 percent this year.

While there was some improvement in New York City schools, upstate urban districts, including Buffalo and Syracuse, had among the lowest test scores in the state. Rochester was at the bottom, with just 6.8 percent considered to meet or exceed standards in math, and 5.7 percent considered proficient in English.

Syracuse's scores also remained largely flat. The percentage of students passing the math test ticked up to 7.6 percent, from 7.2 percent last year. Syracuse student's scores on English stayed the same from last year, at 8.5 percent.

The low test scores will not count against students. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the legislature imposed a two-year moratorium on exam results being applied to student records earlier this year, after what was widely viewed as a botched rollout of the Common Core standards.

The flawed implementation of Common Core led to noisy protests at schools in the fall of 2013, when Chancellor Tisch and Education Commissioner John King attempted to address parent, teacher and student concerns.

King was asked on the teleconference call whether he thought the second year of low test scores would further fuel the backlash against Common Core. He refuted that, and says most of the opposition is based on misconceptions.

“There continues to be a lot of discourse driven by misinformation,” King said.

The parents of more than 55,000 students opted out of taking the tests this year, including the children of Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino. Astorino has made opposition to the Common Core part of his campaign, even starting a new ballot line called the "Stop Common Core" party.

King tamped down expectations of any rapid turn around of test scores in the next few years, saying he expects continued incremental progress.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.