Parents across Brownstone Brooklyn are slamming the Department of Education’s just-released state reading test scores which show that more than half of fifth-graders can’t read at grade level — a much-higher failure rate than last year’s test.
In School District 13, which covers Fort Greene, Clinton Hill and Prospect Heights, 57.9 percent of fifth-graders are failing, according to test results, a 106 percent change from last year, when 28 percent of students were below grade level.
District 14, covering Williamsburg and Greenpoint, had 56 percent of its fifth-graders judged at below grade level, down 114 percent, while District 15, covering Red Hook, Park Slope and Sunset Park, had 46 percent failing, an increase of 136 percent.
City officials are cautioning parents to pay no attention to this year’s numbers — the test was significantly harder to pass than last year’s, which was seen as so easy that it was not a reliable indicator of student achievement.
But parents aren’t buying it.
“They raised the standards and everyone’s scores went down, so what does that tell you?” said Laurie Windsor, president of the Community Education Council in neighboring Bay Ridge. “A lot of people are questioning this and wondering how valid the scores are. It’s ridiculous.”
Students did so well on last year’s “easy” exams that 84 percent of city schools earned an A on their annual school report cards. A comparable stat for this year will be released in October.
The sudden crash in the number of students reading at or above grade level had some parents questioning the Department of Education’s reliance on testing as a way of judging student performance.
“I don’t know if you can judge how well a kid is doing by one exam,” said Mario Aguila, a member of the Community Education Council in Williamsburg. “Our fifth-graders usually do very well, so the drop in the number of students passing the exam really took me by surprise.”
And many parents were stunned not only by the district-wide numbers, but by the scores at their child’s school. For instance, students reading below grade level account for 16 percent of fifth-graders at posh PS 321 on Seventh Avenue in Park Slope, 25 percent of fifth-graders at PS 146 on Henry Street in Carroll Gardens, 44 percent of fifth-graders at PS 132 on Manhattan Avenue in Williamsburg, and 49 percent of fifth-graders at PS 8 on Hicks Street in Brooklyn Heights.
The figures may be startling, but they’re not the only measure of students’ abilities, said Carroll Gardens dad Jim Devor.
“Tests are important,” he said, “But to truly determine achievement, you have to ask yourself, ‘Are children getting a good education in the classroom and what they need to flourish?’ In my child’s school, they are.”
Mayor Bloomberg has argued that the latest test scores are merely a way to correct last year’s inflated results — and don’t indicate that the entire standardized testing system is a failure.
“Parents, teachers and principals should understand that these numbers do not mean our students are performing any worse than they were last year,” Bloomberg said, “it just means that there is a new, tougher benchmark for measuring our successes.”
But Martha Foote, a spokeswoman for the group Time Out From Testing, disagreed:
“This is a very obvious example of the political manipulation of test scores,” she said. “The state chooses where it wants to put the cutoff score, and in the past several years, they wanted more kids to pass, so it was lower. Now, they raised it to make it look like they’re getting tough. This is a blatant political manipulation.”