Student passing rates on the state's Common Core math tests rose significantly this year both on Long Island and statewide, while English scores were down on the Island and essentially flat at the state level, the Department of Education reported Thursday.
Mixed results surprised some school officials, who noted that tests typically show larger gains in their second year of use. Tests administered for grades 3-8 this spring reflected a heavy impact from a statewide opt-out movement of parents who pulled their children out of testing.
About 20,000 students in Nassau and Suffolk counties, or 10 percent of youngsters at those grade levels, missed this year's round of testing, according to figures compiled by Newsday. State officials said more than 50,000 students, or 5 percent, missed tests statewide.
Common Core testing, which began in the spring of 2013 with a push from federal authorities, has generated widespread protests on the Island, both from parents who dislike the extra pressure on their children, and from teachers opposed to a new job-evaluation system linked to their students' test performance.
Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the state's Board of Regents, voiced hope Thursday that changes in the state's testing system recently enacted by her board would ultimately reduce public opposition to Common Core testing and related initiatives. The Regents set statewide education policies.
"We hope that the temperatures come down, and that the rhetoric of politics, all the outside noise, comes down as these changes take effect," Tisch said.
Parent leaders vowed to keep up the pressure.
"I think this is only the start, unless the State Education Department listens to us and makes significant changes in the testing system," said Jeanette Deutermann, a North Bellmore mother of two and founder of the Long Island Opt-Out organization.
State education officials Thursday released two sets of test figures, one covering only students tested in both 2013 and 2014, and the other covering all students tested in either year. State officials described the first set as a better measure of academic growth.
The first set showed slight improvement in English scores statewide; the second set showed a fractional decline.
Here are results from the second set, which is the only one showing comparable numbers at both state and local levels:
On the Island, numbers of students passing in math rose from 37.5 percent in 2013 to 43.4 percent in 2014. Percentages passing in English dropped from 39.6 percent to 36.8 percent.
Statewide passing rates in math rose from 31 percent to 36 percent. Passing rates in English dipped from 31.1 percent to 31 percent.
Lorna Lewis, superintendent of Plainview-Old Bethpage schools, said one major problem in the field of English is the format of the state's Common Core tests. They require students to read long passages, then answer multiple questions by referring back to various sections of texts.
"That's not what we do in everyday life," said Lewis, who is co-chairman of a curriculum committee for the New York State Council of School Superintendents. "Until they fix that English language arts test, the temperature is never going to go down."
The National Governors Association, chief sponsor of Common Core standards, lists 48 states as having been involved in the project aimed at boosting academic performance to better compete with schools in other countries. A number of states, including Indiana, Georgia and South Dakota, recently have pulled back on efforts to put the standards into effect.
Alarms sounded across New York State at this time last year, when the education department released initial results from its new Common Core tests. The number of students passing on Long Island and statewide plunged more than 40 percent, due to more rigorous test questions and also higher cutoff scores.
The lower passing percentages were similar to those in a stringent federal testing program called the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
In the months that followed, New York State officials, including Tisch and Education Commissioner John B. King Jr., faced hostile audiences of parents and teachers at a series of public forums in Manorville, Setauket and other communities, as they tried to defend their new academic policies.
Under growing political pressure, the state has begun pulling back in some key policy areas, while leaving its basic Common Core program in place.
In February, for example, the state's Board of Regents agreed to wait until 2022 to raise passing scores on high school exams to 75 in English and 80 in algebra. Current passing marks are 65.
In June, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state lawmakers approved a two-year delay in state rules authorizing the firing of teachers rated "ineffective" due to students' poor performance on Common Core tests.
Under the rules change, teachers can still be fired on the basis of other factors, such as poor classroom evaluations by their principals.