Education secretary: New York shows 'courage' with more rigorous tests

Teachers in Long Island classrooms, such as this Teachers in Long Island classrooms, such as this one in a May 1, 2013 photo, are evaluated by a system using student test scores, classroom observations and factors such as contacts with parents. Photo Credit: Heather Walsh

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U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan Tuesday endorsed New York State's rapid move to more rigorous testing standards, the day before public release of student scores that are expected to plunge on Long Island and statewide.

Duncan, in a telephone news conference, said the state is "showing courage in telling students where they stand."

Test scores for grades 3-8 in English and math are to be released Wednesday morning, and education officials have warned of steep drops in passing rates -- in large part because test questions reflected the new, tougher Common Core national academic standards adopted in New York, 44 other states and the District of Columbia.

The state's education commissioner, John B. King Jr., who joined in the teleconference, suggested that statewide passing rates could be in the range of 30 percent to 35 percent. Last year, about 55 percent of students passed in English and about 65 percent in math.

"We have every confidence that our school districts and teachers across the state will be able to meet the higher bar," the commissioner said, referring to his expectations for the future.

New York State is among the first to incorporate Common Core guidelines in its exams, given statewide in about 700 public school districts.

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Most states will not launch such testing until the 2014-15 school year, when new uniform batteries become available nationwide.

Proponents of instruction based on the Common Core said it will ensure that more students are well-prepared for college and careers.

Many of the Island's school administrators, teachers and parents -- even those supportive of the higher standards -- have protested that Albany pushed too fast, and classes often were unprepared for new tests that required more sophisticated essay writing and mathematical modeling.

Local educators warned that students who passed state tests in prior years could be demoralized if they suddenly fall short.

"I want my kids to be college- and career-ready," said Susan Schnebel, superintendent of Islip schools and vice president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association. "We all do. But we have to make sure they get there intact."

Duncan took issue with those who have called for delays in tougher testing, saying that too many students in years past had gotten the mistaken impression that they were doing fine academically.

The education chief cited examples of states that used to announce regularly that the great majority of students were academically proficient, when federal assessments showed only a minority of students at that level.

"When you know you're doing the wrong thing for children, why would you stay with it?" Duncan said.

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