Mayor Bloomberg has consistently announced the success of his educational initiatives in the last four years. In fact, his claim for an unprecedented third term is based in part on the strides made by city students on reading and math tests. Chancellor Joel Klein has been praised and virtually beatified for his role in “turning around” the educational system. At one meeting after another the mayor has noted that the control he exercises over the city school system has paid dividends.
However, a recent report challenges the credibility of the mayor’s well-advertised claims. Despite an explosion in educational spending and a capitulation to the demands of the teachers’ union, city scores on the SAT spiraled downward for the fourth straight year.
Since the peak year of 2005, average scores on each 800-point section of the SAT have dropped by 13 points in reading and 18 points in math, declines more significant than the nation generally and far more significant than scores in contiguous states.
Authorities in the city contend that the decline in these scores is fueled by a substantial number of “low performing students taking the test.” However, this response begs the following questions. Why are students performing so poorly? And, as noteworthy, why are scores declining when city test results in math and reading have seemingly improved?
A spokesman for the city schools, Andrew Jacobs, said: “It is especially encouraging that so many more of our black and Hispanic students took the SAT this year, since far too few of these students have historically put themselves on track for college.” This statement, however, drips with sophistry. The number of minority students taking the SAT this year is about the same as those taking the exam last year. Moreover, is Mr. Jacobs claiming blacks and Hispanics cannot succeed on this test? What are the implications of that statement? And how does he square the relative success of minority students on New York City administered standardized tests with the relatively poor showing of this population on the SAT?
If the SAT scores demonstrate that New York City minority students are not prepared for college-level study, one must ask what are they prepared for. Most significantly, the poor results on the SAT test call into question some of the exaggerated claims about student performance. Do the New York City scores in reading and math truly support the proposition that the city’s students are showing marked improvement? Will Mayor Bloomberg be inclined to scale back his rhetoric about educational progress?
Perhaps the most noteworthy development from this recent report is that educational scholars are likely to examine the so-called progress in the city’s school system — or, at least, I hope so. It would surely be helpful to understand why students are doing so well on one hand and so poorly on the other.