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December 11, 2018

New York City public school students did worse on their Regents exams this year — but so did everyone else

December 5, 2018
City public school students on way to class. (Luiz C. Ribeiro for New York Daily News)

Public school students were less likely to pass high-stakes math and reading Regents exams this past school year, new data show — but city Education Department officials said that’s because the tests were harder.

Math and reading Regents tests required for high school graduation saw slightly lower pass rates in the 2017-2018 school year compared with 2016-2017, according to state Education Department figures supplied by city Education Department officials.




The stats reveal that pass rates among city students who took introductory Algebra Regents exams dropped from 66.2% in 2016-2017 to 60.5% in 2017-2018.

And pass rates among city students who took introductory English Language Arts Regents tests slipped from 77.7% to 72.2%.

The drop in scores across the city mirrored a similar statewide slide that was slightly less dramatic.

But city Education Department spokeswoman Danielle Filson said the drop came because the tests were harder.

“State English and Algebra Regents exams change from year to year, and this year’s tests were more difficult and scores decreased statewide,” said Filson.

“New York City high school students are graduating high school, ready for college, and enrolling in college at record levels, and continue to improve on these more accurate and consistent measures of progress,” she added.

Under state law, most New York students must pass the exams to graduate high school — but they may retake them if they don’t pass.

Perhaps more kids will be taking advantage of that option statewide, as statewide Algebra Regents pass rates fell from 74.7% in 2016-2017 to 69.8% in 2017-2018.

And likewise, statewide pass rates for English Language Arts fell from 83.8% to 78.7%.

But despite the city’s claim that the tests were harder, state Education Department officials said the scale for grading the exams was tweaked ahead of time to account for any variations, so it shouldn’t have affected pass rates.

State Education Department officials said that the drop could have been the result of a number of factors and that they couldn’t identify a cause.

“Small differences in the percentages of students scoring in each level are common across years and difficult to attribute to any one factor,” said state Education Department spokeswoman Emily DeSantis.

The state figures shows that the five-largest city school districts around the state all saw drops in pass rates, including New York City, Rochester and Buffalo.

Brooklyn College and CUNY Grad Center Education Prof. David Bloomfield said the fact that big cities’ pass rates all fell suggests that other districts held steadier.




Prof. David Bloomfield.
Prof. David Bloomfield. (Mark Bonifacio / New York Daily News)

This would suggest that the state adjusted scoring of the tests appropriately to account for difficulty, he said.

But he said that a drop in a single year’s pass rate isn’t enough to cause alarm.

“These scores alone raise concerns about student proficiency but this is a snapshot, not the whole story,” Bloomfield said.

Likewise, Bloomfield said a slight uptick in graduation rates and college-readiness revealed by city Education Department officials last month doesn’t tell much about schools’ performance.

Data points such as student retention, course competition and attendance rates should also be considered in evaluating the success of school districts, he said.

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