After multiple years of pandemic disruptions to student learning, there is little data on how New York City students have fared.
City officials refused to release the results of their own assessments of student performance last year. And while the state education department sent standardized test results in reading and math to local school districts — which distributed them to schools and families — officials instructed districts not to release the scores to the general public.
But on Thursday, state officials reversed course after facing pressure from some district leaders, giving districts the green light to release the data if they choose. Nathaniel Styer, a spokesperson for the city’s education department, said the city plans to release scores on Sept. 28.
The decision to delegate authority to release test scores to local districts is unusual, as the state education department typically takes responsibility for announcing district- and school-level scores in August or September. State officials said they don’t plan to release statewide test score data until later this fall, which means if districts release their own scores, there won’t be an immediate ability to compare them with the rest of the state.
The scores will offer the first barometer of how the pandemic has affected reading and math proficiency rates among students in grades 3-8 in the nation’s largest school system. (Students in grades 4 and 8 also take science exams.) Only 20% of New York City students took the state exams in 2021 which made comparisons to pre-pandemic years impossible.
Experts expect the latest numbers to show students have lost ground; reading and math scores on a key national test fell during the pandemic (though more detailed local data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress is expected in October).
Some observers said it is odd that New York has delayed the release of test scores.
“The thing that’s a little suspicious is that other states are doing the same thing,” said Aaron Pallas, a professor at Teachers College and an expert in assessment and testing. “California is holding up their release as well.”
James Merriman, CEO of the New York City Charter School Center, said there would likely not be any overall charter school data until the state releases it later this fall — though individual schools could share statistics.
“In the environment we’re in, a long delay in releasing the full data set is inevitably going to engender, fairly or not, a lot of needless and unhelpful distrust and suspicion that people are playing hide the ball,” Merriman wrote in an email. “Coming off the pandemic, we don’t need that. It’s in everyone’s interest to get the data out there ASAP.”
Emily DeSantis, a state education department spokesperson, said, “The notion that the Department is sitting on statewide data is completely false.”
“We appreciate and recognize the importance of making 2021-22 data publicly available as soon as possible following two years of pandemic disruption,” she wrote. “The Department is undergoing the labor-intensive process to compile millions of pieces of individual student data into statewide data.”
DeSantis emphasized that the state gave schools and districts access to their scores a month earlier than usual to enable educators to plan, and now recommends that schools share the data “to inform discussions and decisions.”
State officials said the delay in releasing the scores to the public was caused by an overhaul in the way the department processes and releases test scores. In previous years, the state released preliminary figures that were distributed to the public before ultimately posting final results that went through a review and verification process.
But releasing preliminary and final results separately is a time-consuming process, officials said, and the preliminary numbers sometimes include omissions or errors. The department plans to only release final results later this fall, though officials did not offer a specific date. State officials also said they have not yet tabulated statewide scores and therefore were unable to share even preliminary statewide figures.
Asked whether the statewide preliminary and final results often differed significantly, state officials directed Chalkbeat to file a public records request for that information.
“I kind of appreciate the fine line the state is walking — not wanting different districts to put out numbers that may be more accurate than others,” Pallas said.
Still, “We’re accustomed to get the data at a particular time,” he added. “Why the state would have so much difficulty pulling this together, that isn’t clear to me.”
Alex Zimmerman is a reporter for Chalkbeat New York, covering NYC public schools. Contact Alex at firstname.lastname@example.org.