Editorial: Keep Standards High

After years of relatively decent news from the city’s public schools, a recent batch of standardized test scores has City Hall and the education establishment reeling. Only 26 percent of city students in the third to eighth grades passed state exams in English, and just 30 percent passed in math.

Those figures are down dramatically from last year, when 55 percent of students in Grades 3 to 8 passed the English exam and 65 percent passed in math.

It’s important to point out that this year’s students took a more difficult exam, making it much harder to compare this year’s results with last year’s. That’s good news because it means that the state is not willing to simply roll up good scores while keeping standards soft.

This year’s tests reflect New York’s adoption of Common Core standards that most other states have also adopted, and which the Obama Administration has been supporting as an alternative to outdated standards of achievement. The Common Core standards also have important champions in the city’s business community, which has a vested interest in developing a better educated work force.

Although results were disappointing and, in the case of some individual schools, downright bleak, it should be noted the New York City students performed better than students in the state’s other cities and about the same as across the state as a whole.

Is the test too difficult? Some critics think so, including the respected scholar of education Diane Ravitch. But surely it is better to aim high and to demand achievement than to keep standards low for the sake of students’ self-esteem.

The city’s business leaders know that inflated self-worth won’t get you very far in today’s global marketplace. New York needs skilled graduates who can think critically and creatively. The Common Core will promote the skills needed in the 21st century. New York must embrace higher standards, even if they result in a temporary setback in test scores.