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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Waterloo for Mayor Bloomberg and Joel Klein: The False Score Reports

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, flanked by Deputy Mayor Dennis Walcott and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, defended the city's test scores at Tweed Courthouse.

There is no doubt in anyone's mind that Joel Klein is in trouble. The media has touched the achilles heel of his regime, namely false claims about accountability, and told the world what we in New York City knew all along: the test scores for the children in New York City public schools are inflated, and are not reflective of achievement.

Of course, this will not touch Mr. Klein, but will harm the children who have missed out on an education.

What Mayor Bloomberg should do immediately to show good faith to his constituents is to fire Joel Klein and Michael Best, get rid of the Panel For Educational Policy before the truth comes out about that group, and make an attempt to rectify what looks like a black cloud over the Bloomberg Administration. I dont think there is any way back to normalcy unless our Mayor takes these steps.

The sound of bubbles bursting: Student gains on state test vanished into thin air
BY Diane Ravitch, NY Daily News, Sunday, August 1st 2010, 4:00 AM

Every year for the past four years, the New York State Education Department has announced dramatic test score gains. And every year, it turns out they were misrepresenting reality. This year, New Yorkers got an accurate accounting of student performance, and it was sobering.

Since 2006, scores have gone through the roof. Teachers and principals quietly told reporters that the tests were getting easier to pass, but no one listened. A few critics and testing experts warned that outsized annual gains were not credible, but no one listened.

At the same time that the state was announcing phenomenal annual gains, national tests administered by the federal government - exams considered the gold standard - told a different story. On those tests, the state's scores in reading were flat from 2000 to 2009. Math scores were up in fourth grade, but not in eighth grade, where they were flat from 2005 to 2009.

New York Commissioner of Education David Steiner (pictured at left) made a bold move. He decided to end the inflation - and administer some shock therapy. The sharp contrast between mostly flat scores on national tests and dramatic annual claims by the state made it necessary for him to act, and he did.

Now we know the painful truth. Last year, 86.4% of the state's students in grades three to eight were deemed proficient in mathematics; today it is 61%. Last year, 77.4% of students in the same grades were deemed proficient in reading; today it is 53.2%.

When the scores were released, there was a sound of bursting bubbles across the state. What once were miracles turned into mirages.

Since 2005, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein have trumpeted historic gains. But after the state's adjustment, the pass rate on the state reading test among city students fell from an impressive 68.8% to an unimpressive 42.4%, and from an astonishing 81.8% to a disappointing 54% in mathematics. Overnight, the city's historic gains disappeared.

Now, look at the achievement gap between the performance of white students and that of minorities. Last year, black students were 22 points behind white students in passing the state English exam. This year - after the state corrected its scoring - the gap increased to 30.4 points.

In math, the gap grew even more. Black students were 17 points behind whites last year. Now they've fallen 30 points behind.

Charter school advocates saw their bubble burst as well. The pass rates in the state's charter schools, overall, dropped even faster than those in regular public schools. In third grade math, it plunged from 96.1% to 61.6%, and in eighth grade, from 84.5% to 50.4%. On the 2010 reading tests, the scores of charter students in New York City were nearly identical to those of district schools: 43% compared to 42%
In math, 63% of the city's charter students passed, compared to 54% in public schools, which was an advantage but nothing like the miraculous results previously claimed by charter promoters.

Among other bubbles that popped were the city's school report cards, which based 85% of their grades on the state's test scores, mostly on gains on the test now proven to be vastly overstated. Some schools were given an A for "progress" on dumbed-down tests, and others were closed because they didn't make the grade. But the measure was a deeply flawed instrument.

The hundreds of millions of dollars that the city has spent on test preparation turned out to be a bad investment. Students were learning test-taking skills, not truly learning reading or mathematics.

As a result of the fiasco, we now know that the bonuses of more than $30 million handed out last year to teachers in schools that made "gains" on the state tests were a waste of precious money.

Why does test score inflation matter? Aside from the fact that the state misled the public, the inflated scores caused tens of thousands of students to be denied needed remediation. The inflated scores also help to explain why 75% of the city's high school graduates require remediation when they enroll in community colleges at the City University.

Now we know that achievement in the city and state did not grow by historic proportions, as officials claimed.

The way to avoid similar messes in the future is to use test scores for information and diagnosis, not for rewards and punishments.

Two questions remain: Will Bloomberg and Klein accept this new reality or will they continue to deny the plain facts and refuse to be held accountable? And will the state education department find and fire the bureaucrats and private contractors responsible for this scandal? Unfortunately, the prospects for genuine accountability by the city and state are not promising.

Ravitch is Research Professor of Education at New York University.

But, there is always the Daily News, a newspaper that has been in the pockets of Mayor Bloomberg since 2002 and simply wont print the truth:

Way to go, kids: City public school students have tested higher and higher
Editorials, Friday, July 30th 2010, 4:00 AM

Over the last four years, nobody has cheered louder for academic achievements racked up by city public school students. We stand by our applause.

Lost in the uproar over the state's new testing standards has been the fact that kids have made real gains in learning - outpacing their peers around the state and across the country.

The hue and cry triggered by the state's action has left the widespread misimpression that students are performing no better than they had, and may even have fallen behind. False. False. False.

State education officials took the courageous step of, in effect, raising passing grades for standardized math and English tests. The shift placed new labels on hundreds of thousands of children. Last year, they were counted as passing; this year, they are counted as failing. Even though their grades are the same. And even though their grades have risen steadily from year to year.

Applying the new standards retroactively, 36% of third- through eighth-graders passed English in 2006, climbing to 42% this year. In math, the percentage passing rose from 32% to 54%.

The gains are smaller than under the old standards, but they are still gains.

On the National Assessment of Educational Progress - the gold standard in testing in the U.S. - New York fourth-graders scored 11 points higher in 2009 than they did in 2002, and eighth-graders' math score rose seven points over six years.

The new benchmarks show the children have a long way to go, but they have come a long way already. And let's not forget it.

Others see the subterfuge:

Klein Speaks Out About Scores

City scrambles to recalibrate its message to adjusted scores
Posted By Maura Walz On July 29, 2010 @ 9:32 am In Newsroom | 43 Comments

Talking about the definition of academic proficiency yesterday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg struck a relativist note.

“Everybody can have their definition of what it means,” he said. Later, he added: “The last time I checked, Lady Gaga is doing fine with just a year of college.”

He even asked reporters not to refer to students who score above a Level 3 out of 4 as “proficient.”

The request follows new revelations [1] that the bar for “proficiency” on state tests seems to have dropped over time, so that even though more students statewide were meeting it each year, they were not actually learning more. In response, the state this year took steps to tug standards higher.

Yet even as he called the definition of “proficient” into question, Bloomberg vigorously defended the administration’s tough accountability system, which uses the Level 1 to 4 system to determine which students move on to the next grade and as one piece of schools’ report card grades.

Bloomberg has also used rising numbers of students scoring at Level 3 as a referendum on his education policies, arguing over and over again that because the rates are going up, the policies must work. Just last year, announcing that more students were “meeting or exceeding grade-level math standards,” a reference to more students scoring Level 3 or higher, Bloomberg called the results “proof” of New York City schools’ excellence.

“Our schools have made a remarkable turnaround since 2002,” he said in a press release [2]. “New York City is now proof that you shouldn’t have to choose between living in a big city and sending your children to excellent public schools.”

For years, city officials also rebuffed critics who suggested that rapid gains might not represent increases in student learning. ”I’m sort of speechless,” Bloomberg said in 2008 [3], after GothamSchools editor Elizabeth Green (then a reporter at the New York Sun) asked whether rising graduation rates might reflect inflation. “Is there anything good enough to just write the story?”

Now that state officials have acknowledged that test scores have inflated [4] — and they’ve adjusted them [5] accordingly — the city is scrambling to adjust its message.

In one step, they are referring to the statewide re-calibration, which aims to offset years of apparently dropping standards [1], as a hiking of the bar.

“Whether the new expectations will instigate all of us to try harder, one can only hope,” Bloomberg said.

City officials are also defending their accountability measures — like the grades given to schools, based strongly on test results — by arguing that the measures don’t look at proficiency rates but rather progress from year to year. Indeed, the report card formula weights progress more heavily than how many students score at a level 3, the state’s minimum bar for proficiency.

“The virtue of our accountability system is that it’s not tied to a line in the sand,” Klein said yesterday. ”Level 3 is simply a single line,” Klein said. ”We will look at what we’ve always looked at — not at how many are level 3, but at how much progress they have made.”

Even that may prove problematic this year, since city schools’ raw scores on the tests flattened out this year [6] as well. Anticipating the changes, city officials announced earlier this year [7] that schools will be graded on a curve for next year’s progress reports.

Still, critics of the city’s accountability system, like teachers union chief Michael Mulgrew, said yesterday’s scores call into question not just the mayor’s record but also the wisdom of using test scores as a measure of school improvement.

“In light of the state’s more rigorous standards, the DOE’s success in raising pupil proficiency has turned out to be illusory,” Mulgrew said.

State officials defended the city against charges that the gains it has boasted are imaginary. In an interview this week, State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said that the city’s efforts under Bloomberg and Klein prevented the shock of the score re-setting from being even more severe.

“If you haven’t noticed that the city school system is improving, then you’re walking around with blinders,” Tisch said.

Article printed from GothamSchools

URL to article

URLs in this post:

[1] new revelations

[2] said in a press release

[3] said in 2008

[4] acknowledged that test scores have inflated

[5] adjusted them

[6] flattened out this year

[7] announced earlier this year

Below is Whitney Tilson, a man who should not be working in the New York City public school system at all.

Betsy Combier

From: Whitney Tilson []
Sent: Friday, July 30, 2010 4:57 PM
To: Klein Joel I.
Subject: RE: test data

Thx for the heads up on the Daily News editorial – I’ll include it in my next email.

Please send me whatever you have on the results.


From: Klein Joel I. []
Sent: Friday, July 30, 2010 4:43 PM
To: Whitney Tilson
Subject: RE: YPO dinner on March 8, 9 or 10th?

Btw, thanks for the shout out today. NYT is outrageous. There will be pushback (in addition to today’s DN edit) ahead but the oppos are trying to move their agenda with this. If you ever want details regarding the results, including strong results in 3 or 4 naeps, i can get to you. Enjoy the weekend.

Whitney Tilson’s

School Reform Resource Page
By Whitney Tilson, WTilson at
About me:

Check out my school reform blog at:

I believe that the most important domestic issue facing our country is the mediocre performance – and, in many cases, outright failure – of many of our public schools. We are falling further and further behind our international competitors and, within the United States, there are vast educational inequalities.

Today, four million children – mostly low-income children of color – attend a school that has been identified as failing for six consecutive years. The result is that 54% of African-American and 50% of Latino 4th graders are functionally illiterate – they cannot read a simple children’s story – and the average African-American and Latino 12th grader reads and does math at the same level as white 8th graders. The large number of failing schools and the resulting vast achievement gaps are the shame of our nation. Tens of millions of our children, especially low-income children of color, are not being given a fair shot at the American Dream, which I believe is one of the fundamental promises of this great nation.

I’m convinced that most people – even well-read, concerned citizens – are simply not fully aware how catastrophically bad inner-city schools are. Yet there is reason for optimism: many schools, spending less money, are taking the same children, providing them with an excellent education and sending 80% or more to four-year colleges (for more on these schools, see below).

Over the past 20 years of being involved in efforts to improve educational opportunities for all American children – first, helping Wendy Kopp start Teach for America and then in my current roles on the boards of KIPP charter schools and the Council of Urban Professionals in New York and of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, one of the founders of Democrats for Education Reform, and the co-founder of the Rewarding Achievement (REACH) program – I’ve read a great deal, collected hundreds of articles and studies and written extensively on the topic. I’ve created this web page, which links to the most compelling information I’ve identified, collected and written, to assist those who wish to learn more about this topic:

1) After seeing An Inconvenient Truth, the documentary featuring Al Gore making a presentation about global warming, I thought to myself, “That’s exactly what school reformers need as well,” so I put together a presentation entitled A Right Denied: The Critical Need for Genuine School Reform. It is meant to be a collection of data and arguments that forcefully advances an urgent school reform agenda. Click here to see it (it’s a large Adobe Acrobat file and may take a little while to download). It's very long, but it's easy to quickly go through it and I've organized it into modules so that shorter versions can be used for specific purposes or audiences.

If you wish to download the Powerpoint version so that you can, for example, edit slides and incorporate some of them into your own presentation, I encourage you to do so. Click here to download the main content and click here and here to download the two appendices (these are both large files).

I gave this presentation at an event in Washington DC on Nov. 4, 2009 – you can watch it by clicking here, here, and here. It has also been made into a documentary, which was released earlier this month. You can see the trailer and, if you wish, order it at: During the month of April, $10 of every sale goes to Teach for America and KIPP.

2) I'm one of the founders of an upstart political organization, Democrats for Education Reform (, that aims to move the Democratic Party (my party) to embrace genuine school reform, rather than being a major obstacle, which is, sadly, pretty much where it is today. Here is our Statement of Principles, here is an article in the USA Today about the event we organized on the Sunday prior to the Democratic National Convention, and here is an article about us that appeared in Philanthropy Magazine. Thanks in part to our efforts, President Obama has been extraordinarily bold on this issue, starting with his selection of Arne Duncan as Secretary of Education.

I’ve posted an appeal to get involved here and I hope you'll take a moment to sign our petition at:

If you're interested in more background on why the Democratic party has been so timid on education reform, I recommend these two great articles on this topic: A) What Democrats Need to Say About Education; and B) A chapter from a fabulous book, Cheating Our Kids, written by DFER Executive Director Joe Williams called Democrats & Republicans - But Mostly Democrats.

3) I’ve posted many of my old school reform emails at: I sometimes don’t find the time to keep this blog up to date, however, so if you’d like to be added to my school reform email list to receive emails 2-3x/week, simply email me at WTilson at

4) There’s a lot of pernicious, borderline-racist, blame-the-victim nonsense out there, and when I encounter it, it really sets me off. Here are three of my all-time favorite rants on closing the achievement gap, the hopelessness myth (also known as blame-the-victim) and defending No Child Left Behind (which, despite its faults, is the greatest piece of civil rights legislation in more than 30 years).

5) I think some of the most exciting school reform efforts in the country are underway in New York City, spearheaded by Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Klein. Here are my comments on Bloomberg and Klein’s reform plan, here’s a link to Bloomberg’s brilliant speech to the Urban League, and here’s a link to a video of Chancellor Klein speaking about this topic.

6) I’ve visited dozens of schools – mostly charter schools – that have achieved extraordinary success in educating even the most difficult-to-educate students. Here are my comments about a New York Times Magazine article about these schools, What It Takes to Make a Student, and my thoughts on teacher burnout at these schools.

Speaking of charter schools, there’s a lot of mythology around them, so I’ve written quite a bit about them:

- A federal Department of Education study in August 2006 purported to show that charter schools were doing worse than regular public schools. Here is the rebuttal by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (click here), my rebuttal of a NY Times editorial about this study (click here) and further comments in response to a Wall St. Journal editorial (click here)

- Here’s what I wrote about a charter school that shares the same building and students with a regular public school – and the reasons why the charter school is taking children to 70% at grade level in one year vs. 10-20% for the regular public school: click here

I have also posted web pages from visits I’ve made to various charter schools: A) KIPP Academy in the South Bronx; KIPP AMP Academy in Crown Heights, Brooklyn; the Harlem Success Academy charter school; various charter schools in Newark; two charter schools in Boston; Achievement First/Amistad; Uplift Education in Dallas; and photos from more than a dozen schools I visited in September and October, 2009.

7) Here are links to some of my favorite posts:

- One of my friends sent me this story of his experience as a TFA teacher in the South Bronx a decade ago (though he's no longer there, he is still (thankfully) very much involved with educating disadvantaged kids). It is one of the most powerful, heart-breaking, enraging things I have ever read – and perfectly captures what this education reform struggle is all about. Stories like this about what really goes on in our failing public schools need to be told and publicized.

- This is an incredibly powerful speech to new TFA corps members by Ryan Hill, the amazing founder of KIPP/TEAM in Newark. It’s one of the most powerful ed reform speeches – scratch that, ANY type of speech – I’ve ever read.

- A KIPP Academy student, Sayda Morales, who is now a junior in high school at my daughters’ school, read this slam poetry tribute to her grandmother at Cultural Night last year. It’s one of the most moving things I’ve ever read/heard. Click here to read it. (Incidentally, she is also the author of the poem that she reads at the beginning of this KIPP Welcome Video, which is also very moving.)

- Here is a brilliant New Yorker article about NYC’s infamous Rubber Room, which captures how impossible it is to remove even the worst teachers.

- Is blaming teachers for students’ failures like blaming oncologists when cancer patients die? No! Click here, here and here

- The importance of teacher quality – and how few low-income, minority students get high-quality teachers: click here (and click here for slides with data on this)

- Democrats for Education Reform’s call to action on NCLB: click here

- My thoughts on Randi Weingarten and the teachers unions: click here and (saying something nice) here

- My critique of Diane Ravitch: click here and here

- My critique of Jonathan Kozol: click here

- My critique of Charles Murray: click here, here, here and here

- The homework myth: click here

- The underpaid teachers myth: click here

- The hidden teacher-spending gap: click here

- A defense of Weighted Student Funding: click here

- Thoughts on vouchers: click here

- The class size myth: click here and here

- Ending social promotion: click here

- Affirmative action: click here

Recommended Reading

These are my favorite books on school reform:

1) Cheating Our Kids: How Politics and Greed Ruin Education, Joe Williams (Joe is Executive Director of Democrats for Education Reform)

2) Work Hard, Be Nice: How Two Inspired Teachers Created the Most Promising Schools in America, Jay Mathews

3) Crazy Like a Fox: One Principal’s Triumph in the Inner City, by Ben Chavis

4) Escalante: The Best Teacher in America, by Jay Mathews

5) Education Myths: What Special Interest Groups Want You to Believe About Our Schools--And Why It Isn't So, Jay Greene

6) No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning, by Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom

Further book recommendations are here.

Recommended Viewing

These are my favorite TV shows/segments on school reform:

1) One of the key milestones in KIPP's development was when Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes did a segment on KIPP in August 2000. Don and Doris Fisher, founders of the Gap, saw it and shortly thereafter offered to bankroll KIPP's expansion -- and the rest, as they say, is history. KIPP was also profiled in a PBS special called Making Schools Work. Links to both are here.

2) Stupid in America. This 40-minute 20/20 special dramatically highlights our schools’ failures (click here to read the transcript).

New York School Test Scores

In this era of accountability, education statistics are increasingly important, and education departments have responded by publishing reams of data about schools. This site will help you put the numbers into context. For every school in New York, you’ll find a complete summary of demographics and student performance over the past decade. The site will be updated regularly as new data becomes available.

New York Citywide Scores

About This Data

Statistics on this site were culled from figures published by the New York State and New York City education departments.

For test scores, the New York Times has calculated a "Performance Index" that compares each school to others in the state. The performance index for a school or district on a given test is passing rate divided by the median passing rate for all schools or districts, multiplied by 100. Schools with a performance index above 100 have scores above the stat average.

Within New York City, performance indexes were calculated for each of the city's 32 geographic districts and compared with the 700 other districts throughout the state. The city district's overall performance is compared to the combined total of all non-New York City districts.

Because poverty rates have a substantial correlation with test performance, the percentage of poor students — those eligible for federal free lunch programs — is provided along with the demographics.

The passing rate used is the percentage of students scoring level 3 or higher on tests administered to elementary and middle school students, and the percentage of students achieving a score of 65 or higher on regents examinations, which is the state standard for graduation credit.

For tests administered to grades 3 through 8, the Times is providing combined scores for all grades, as well as scores for individual grades.

The number and type of tests administered have increased over time, which may cause fluctuations in index scores. Tests included are math, English, science and social studies, though because the results are released at different times, not every subject will be available for the most recent year. The number of grades tested expanded in 2006 to include 3rd through 8th grade; previously, only 4th and 8th graders were tested. The rules changed in 2007 to require inclusion of more scores by English language learners, which affected results on English scores in immigrant communities.

July 29, 2010
Confusion on Where City Students Stand

For years, parents, voters and students themselves were told that the New York City public schools were improving all the time.

The proof was in the numbers: only 57 percent of students were passing state math tests in 2006, and by last year that statistic was 82 percent — an achievement once deemed unthinkable for the nation’s largest school system.

But on Wednesday, the veil was lifted with the release of 2010 test results that state officials said was a more accurate picture of students’ abilities, and experts and educators were left to wonder exactly how much the city’s schools had improved during the last decade.

The results, which showed just 43 percent of public school students in New York City passing their English exams this year and 54 percent in math, have left the city with math and English proficiency rates lower than they had been in 2006, when the state last overhauled grade school testing.

The average city student this year answered about the same number of questions correctly as last year, but state education officials said that the number required to pass the tests, or show proficiency, had been set too low before this year.

Because of the shifting definition of the word “proficiency” in the state, experts assessing the situation on Thursday said there was no clear answer to the bottom-line question on the minds of many New Yorkers: Is student performance actually stronger now than it was eight years ago, when the schools came under the control of Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg?

“Things are getting better,” said Daniel Koretz, a Harvard professor whose research helped lead the state to the current changes. “They are just not getting better anywhere nearly as fast as the state scores led us to believe.”

Robert Tobias, a professor at New York University who once directed assessment for city schools, took a more sanguine view. “It is impossible to tell what percentage of the gains were illusory,” he said. “At best, we can say that these new scores are a pretty good estimate of the way schools and pupils are performing now.”

Deciphering where the schools are now rests heavily, experts agreed, on a standardized test that is seen as a national gold standard, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP.

The proficiency percentages of New York City school children on that test are dauntingly low, as they are for the nation as a whole. Just 22 percent of the city’s eighth graders and just 29 percent of the city’s fourth graders are proficient in reading.

There have been improvements in the city’s NAEP scores since 2003, particularly in fourth-grade math, though eighth-grade reading has shown no improvement. But even with the significant fourth-grade gains, only 35 percent of city fourth-grade students are proficient in math, according to NAEP data.

By those standards, even the results of the new, tougher state test scores seem high. And by the same token, experts who were watching the state test said they were not surprised when it was revealed that there had been significant inflation on an exam that years ago parted ways with the national standard as a measure of performance.

“A lot of the trend toward increasing test scores was not attributable to gains in actual student learning,” Mr. Tobias said. “There were a number of factors, the growth of test prep, the narrowing of the curriculum, the predictability of the tests.”

City officials point to a number of variables to show that there has been real improvement in city schools. The graduation rate has been rising at 2 percent to 4 percent a year. The number of students entering city and state colleges has been growing. Though a majority of students enrolled in two-year associate degree programs at community colleges still need to take remedial classes, that number has been falling.

“We know there has been significant progress, and we know we have a long way to go,” said Shael Polakow-Suransky, the chief accountability officer for the Education Department.

The usefulness of test scores is not just a matter of perception. In New York City, they are used to decide who is promoted to the next grade and who must first attend summer school, which teachers and principals receive bonuses and, now, which teachers will earn tenure.

Mr. Polakow-Suransky defended the city’s use of the state tests as the cornerstone of its accountability measures, pointing out that he was aware of no credible research calling the city’s rising graduation rates into question. The city, he emphasized, measured the progress of students against other comparable students, insulating it somewhat from the variability of the tests, and would do even more such comparison work in the future.

That will be a balm for experts who complained that the real problem with the new scores was that the tests were carrying too much importance as indicators of progress.

The new results, Mr. Tobias said, “are vindication for every cautious critic who has warned against using the test for accountability purposes.”

Aaron M. Pallas, a professor of sociology and education at Teachers College at Columbia University, said, “I think the message is: We just really can’t trust the state tests for judging whether the quality of education in New York City has really improved.”

July 28, 2010
Standards Raised, More Students Fail Tests

Applying new, tougher standards, state education officials said Wednesday that more than half of public school students in New York City failed their English exams this year, and 54 percent of them passed in math.

The results were in stark contrast to successes that Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg had heralded in recent years. When he ran for re-election in 2009, he boasted of state test scores that showed two-thirds of city students were passing English and 82 percent were passing math.

But state education officials said that performance was misleading because those scores were inflated by tests that had become easier to pass. The scores released on Wednesday were the first attempt to establish what the officials considered a more trustworthy measure of students’ abilities.

Merryl H. Tisch, the chancellor of the State Board of Regents, said she had encouraged teachers and parents to greet the news “not with disappointment and not with anger.”

“Now that we are facing the hard truth that not all of the gains were as advertised, we have to take a look at what we can do differently,” she said. “These results will finally provide real, unimpeachable evidence to be used for accountability.”

The falloff in passing rates occurred statewide. This year, 61 percent of state students were deemed passing, or at grade level, in math, compared with 86 percent last year. Students also performed dismally on the English tests, with 53 percent passing, down from 77 percent.

The scoring adjustment could raise questions about the precision of educational testing, even as policy makers across the country, including President Obama, are relying on tests to determine teachers’ pay and whether a school should be shut. In New York City, scores on state tests have been used to assign grades A through F to each school, as well as to determine principal and teacher bonuses.

And the results could cast doubts on the city’s improvements over the past several years; both the mayor and the schools chancellor, Joel I. Klein, have used increases in state test scores as evidence that schools have improved.

“It certainly complicates the Bloomberg administration message, because the state test is completely unreliable,” said Michael J. Petrilli, a researcher with the Fordham Institute, a Washington-based research group.

New York State said the tests had become too easy, with some questions varying little from year to year, making it simple for teachers to prepare students because each test is made publicly available after it is given. So this year, the state made the questions less predictable and raised the number of correct answers needed to pass the tests, which are given to every student from the third through the eighth grades.

Last year, for example, a fourth grader had to get 37 out of 70 possible points on the math test to reach Level 3 (out of 4), or grade level. This year, a fourth grader needed to earn 51 out of 70 points to reach that level.

New York City officials said that if previous scores were adjusted to the new standards, the city would still show substantial progress over the past decade, and they noted that students had improved somewhat on federal tests in recent years.

“This doesn’t mean the kids did any worse — quite the contrary,” Mr. Bloomberg said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon. “What this is simply saying is that we’ve redefined what our objectives are for the kids.”

“Whether the new expectations will instigate all of us to try harder,” he added, “one can only hope.”

By last year’s standard of proficiency, students in New York City did improve slightly in math this year, but dropped a bit in English.

The mayor’s explanation is likely to offer little consolation to teachers and parents of students who once were considered proficient and now are deemed behind. Scores for districts and schools were released on Wednesday, with student scores available for parents next month.

The Bloomberg administration has relied on the exams to carry out one of its most contentious policies: requiring every student who scores at Level 1, the lowest, to attend summer school and pass a retest or repeat the grade.

This year, anticipating a drop in passing rates, the city sent more struggling students, about 27,000, to summer school. But the test results indicated that about 8,500 more should have been enrolled, the mayor said.

Mr. Bloomberg said that next year, education officials will tell principals to “keep an eye on these kids” to provide extra help. He dismissed a question about whether students in the past few years had been promoted before they were prepared for the next grade.

“You can make the case that we should have held back everybody,” he said. “I don’t know that there’s a standard where you should say, ‘We’re satisfied.’ ”

The city has made plans to assign grades to schools on a curve this year. But the grades are likely to fluctuate wildly — in many schools the percentage of students passing dropped by more than 50 percentage points.

At Public School 179 in the Bronx, for example, the percentage of third graders proficient in math plummeted to 21 percent, from 91 percent last year.

“We had to take several deep breaths,” said Sherry Font Williams, the principal.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, schools are required to show “adequate yearly progress” on tests or face being shut down. Testing experts say that has led many states to progressively make their tests easier.

Because of the drop-off, New York State is in danger of having far more schools labeled as failing, but has asked the federal Department of Education for an exception this year.

The drop-offs were most drastic for black and Latino students, as well as those with disabilities and those still learning English, primarily because many of the students had been just above the minimum proficiency rates under the old standards.

While the test scores paint a bleak portrait in New York City, urban districts upstate fared worse. In Rochester, just 25 percent of all students were at grade level in reading, compared with 56 percent last year. In Buffalo, 26 percent of eighth-grade students met the state’s standards in math, although 58 percent did so last year.

“It’s devastating how they presented it and how they are doing it,” said James A. Williams, the Buffalo superintendent. “This is moving the goal line. While we were running for a touchdown and we were at the 10-yard line, they moved the goal post 20 yards forward.”

Robert Gebeloff and Sharon Otterman contributed reporting.