Only one in five New York City public school children took statewide exams in English and math last spring, a massive drop that makes comparing the 2021 scores to prior years largely useless.

“Last year’s tests were not like any other years, due to the pandemic affecting everything from how many students took the test and who those students were to the tests themselves,” state Education Commissioner Betty Rosa said.

The tests are given to students in grades three through eight. During the pandemic last spring, students only took the test if they proactively opted to do so, and few did.

What You Need To Know

  • Normally, all city students in grades three through eight take state exams unless they opt out, but last spring students had to opt in

  • Few did: just about 20% of city public school students took the exams in 2021

  • The city won't use the scores to make promotion decisions, but it hasn't said yet whether they will be a factor in middle and high school admissions

About 22% of city students took the English exam, and roughly 21% of city students took the math exam.

The exams weren’t given in 2020. In 2019, when all students took the exams unless they opted out of them, 96% took the tests.

The result is a test that doesn't tell us much, according to education professor David Bloomfied.

"It's so few kids, and kids and families were under such a wide range of pressures, that there was really nothing that you could read into these scores, and they’re coming out so late that they’re effectively worthless in terms of any diagnostic value,” David Bloomfield, an education professor at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, said.

With many fewer students than normal taking the exam, the scores were higher than in the past. But some student groups were underrepresented. Black and Hispanic students were less likely to take the exam in 2021 than Asian and white students. And historically, there has been a racial achievement gap in the results, with Asian and whites students outperforming their peers.

“White and Asian families disproportionately believe they will be advantaged by taking tests, and that’s basically what we saw — I think we saw an attitude poll about testing taking,” Bloomfield said.

The 2021 scores won’t be used in decisions to promote or hold back children.

But the city still will not say whether selective middle and high schools can use the scores as part of their admission criteria.

With no admission deadlines even set yet, Bloomfield says it could wind up being a decision for the next mayor.

“It’s going to be very hard without reliable test results to even make a public statement about how he’s going to use these scores for anything other than the trash can,” Bloomfield said.

State officials say they plan to return to administering the exams as normal this spring.