Schools and students struggling to meet New York State and federal educational standards will find the task more daunting this fall, when passing scores on the state's annual math and reading tests have become higher and the tests themselves have become more difficult.

The New York State Regents endorsed the state department of education's plan Monday to raise the scores and complicate the test, ending years of debate about whether the tests had become too easy. The new passing score will be announced the week of July 26, with the release of 2010 test scores.

Changing the test will better prepare students for the rigors of college, several regents said in a press release announcing the change. Many of the students currently labeled proficient according to the test require remedial work when they get to college, according to research the regents commissioned. "'Proficiency' on our exams has to mean something real," said Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch. "No good purpose is served when we say that a child is proficient when that child is not."

New York City Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein told The New York Times he supports the new grading rubric and harder tests. “We’ve said a million times we support higher standards,” he said. “It will make all of us raise the bar.”

New York City's United Federation of Teachers opposes excessive emphasis on standardized testing, but Richard Riley, the organization's spokesperson, said in a statement that the regent's decision was a form of comeuppance for New York City's Department of Education, which has touted gains that city students have recently made on the tests. "We have heard endlessly from the administration that the sole reason our students gained ground was because of the DOE’s test-focused approach to education," he wrote. "They led the public to believe that in fact we were closing the achievement gap. Clearly that is not the case."

Higher passing scores and harder tests will cause more students to fail the state's annual exams and cost schools more money to remediate low-performers, an obligation imposed by current state regulations. Schools won't face any cost increase because of the changes until the 2011-12 school year. But schools whose students perform poorly under the newly scored 2010 test could have to answer to the federal government soon, even if they would have scored better under the 2009 grading rubric.

The New York State Education commissioner plans to ask the U.S. Department of Education (USDOE) to evaluate such schools under the 2009 rubric – and, in the past, the USDOE has shown a willingness to mitigate the potentially negative side effects of a New York State policy change. But if the USDOE rigidly enforces the 2010 grading rubric, those schools could face the usual menu of sanctions applied to struggling schools.

Jonathan Burman, a spokesperson for the state's department of education, said in an e-mail that delaying changes to the test to give schools and parents more time to prepare would have been unwise. "Getting this right is a matter of great urgency," he wrote. "It's not about blaming anyone for the past; it's about moving forward and doing what the research shows is the right thing for the kids."