NEW YORK — As New Yorkers absorbed the bad news that standardized test scores plummeted because this year's tests were harder, Mayor Michael Bloomberg focused on the good news that New York City students scored only slightly lower than New York state as a whole — and much better than other urban districts.
But Bloomberg's critics seized on Wednesday's release of statewide test scores to question the legacy of the mayor, who has made boosting student performance a key goal of his three-term administration.
"What we learned today is that after 12 years of demonizing teachers, 12 years of teaching to the test and shutting out parents and communities, the Bloomberg administration's efforts are heading in the wrong direction," said former City Comptroller William Thompson Jr., one of several candidates seeking to succeed Bloomberg who weighed in on the test scores.
Bloomberg said New York City's students did much better than those in Rochester, Buffalo and Syracuse.
"Other big cities are dismally down compared to what we've done," he said at a news conference at the city Department of Education headquarters.
The tests that New York students in grades 3 through 8 took last spring were the first to be aligned to the Common Core standards, a set of guidelines intended to increase the rigor of school curricula in order to better prepare students for college and careers.
As had been predicted by state education officials, scores were lower across the board.
Statewide, 31 percent of students met or exceeded the math and English proficiency standards. Last year, 55 percent of students were considered proficient in English and 65 percent in math.
In New York City, the nation's largest school system with 1.1 million students, 26 percent were proficient in English and 30 percent in math. That's a drop from 47 percent in English and 60 percent in math a year ago.
As Bloomberg noted, other urban districts fared much worse. Just 5 percent of Rochester's students were proficient.
State and city education officials say that because the tests are new, this year's scores won't be used in decisions about closing schools, evaluating teachers or forcing students to repeat a grade.
Eventually, Bloomberg said, the tougher tests will help students compete "in the global technological world."
But critics said the results showed they were right to doubt Bloomberg's record on schools.
"For years, Mayor Bloomberg trumpeted the supposed miracle of his management, as the city's test scores ostensibly rose," said City Comptroller John Liu, another mayoral candidate. He added, "After all this PR, it turns out that he's the A-Rod of public education."
Aaron Pallas, a professor of sociology and education at Columbia University, noted that white and Asian students outperformed black and Latino students by wide margins on the 2013 tests despite the Bloomberg administration's efforts to close the racial achievement gap.
"This year's scores make clear that, whatever the Mayor's education legacy, he cannot count shrinking the achievement gap as a key accomplishment," Pallas said in an email.