Over the last several weeks, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg made a series of unusual fund-raising calls to a handful of wealthy New Yorkers. Would they be willing, he asked, to chip in $250,000 each to save some standardized tests?
The state, he told them, had canceled the January administration of the high school Regents exams, endangering the graduation of thousands of city students. Principals were warning of disastrous consequences and more dropouts. To reinstate the exams, the state needed $1.4 million the State Legislature did not provide.
He placed five calls, and all of the donors said yes. Mr. Bloomberg then pitched in $250,000 from his own private philanthropy. So now January exams are back on across the state in what may be the nation’s first private effort to pay for standardized testing.
“They are not trying to court favor with anybody,” he said on Wednesday, announcing the gift and explaining why all the donors, with the exception of the mayor, were anonymous. “They just understand that this is the future of our country, our kids, the future of our city.”
Principals use the January administration of the Regents for many reasons: practice for students, early graduation, and a second or third chance for students who failed the test before. To graduate, students across the state have to pass Regents exams in five subjects — math, English, science, American history and global history.
After the state canceled the January tests in May, city principals wrote letters to state officials, warned the schools chancellor about plummeting graduation rates and wrote opinion articles in local newspapers. But even the principals most involved in the issue did not know until Wednesday morning that the mayor had started a private fund-raising effort.
“I am very pleased and relieved,” said Sarah Scrogin, the principal of East Bronx Academy for the Future, explaining how the January tests last year helped get one of her students, who had given birth in the ninth grade, back on track.
Because the state was $8 million short in its testing budget, it also canceled all foreign language Regents exams, leading to concerns that high schools will now cut classes in those subjects to save money. But because those tests are optional for graduation, the mayor put his foot down when asked if he would make a few calls to save those, too.
“The private sector cannot fill in for the state on everything, nor will we do that,” he said. “This is a one-time shot, a chance to save kids.”