Test Scores: Better than Buffalo
August 8th, 2011

The yearly releasing and parsing of students test scores took place Monday with Mayor Michael Bloomberg finding lots of good news among the reams of data.

To sum up, the scores show a very modest increase – but an increase – in the percentage of New York City third through eight graders that the state deems to be proficient in reading and math. Overall 57.3 percent of students rated a proficient in math, up from 54 percent last year, and 43.9 percent in English language arts, a 1.5 percentage point rise from last year.

In many respects, though, the data present a sobering picture. The increases in the city were modest. While up from last year, the scores represent a steep drop from 2009 when the state decided that the tests – and its scoring – had gotten too easy and so recalibrated the scores and began revamping the test itself. And after 10 years of so-called school reforms and massive infusions of money, less than half the students in city public schools are considered proficient readers.

(For detailed breakdown of the city scores, including results for individual schools, go here. For more information on statewide results go to the New York State Department of Education.)

State officials underscored this in their prepared statement. “Students outcomes have been stubbornly flat over time,” state Education Commissioner John King said. And state Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch found that the results “underscore the urgent need” for the state to move forward with reforms.

Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers struck a similarly subdued tone. While praising the “incremental gains,” in a prepared statement, Mulgrew said, “We still have a long way to go. As a former classroom teacher, I know that real progress in student learning comes gradually, not in leaps and bounds. The [Department of Education] needs to come up soon with an instructional strategy that can keep this progress going, despite the problems we are facing next year like a dramatic rise in class size and the loss of hundreds of valuable programs.

But Mayor Michael Bloomberg largely rejected such sobriety. Although he repeatedly said improvement was needed, he enthusiastically hailed the results.

“No matter where the state sets the bar, New York City kids continue to improve over time” he said at a press briefing. “The news really is very good,” he added.

(The spin – and our analysis of the scores after the jump)

Choose Your Stats
The test scores release contains a trove of data. And not surprisingly the administration likes to pick and chose what statistics it stresses so as to put its performance in the best possible light. In the middle part of the decade as scores seemed to skyrocket, the mayor and his then schools Chancellor Joel Klein stressed the huge gains.

Last year, when the state recalibrated the scores, erasing much of those gains, Klein urged reporters to look at the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

And this year when the gains are modest — and leave the percent of students considered proficient far short of the level supposedly reached in 2009 — Bloomberg has decided the only measure that makes any sense is how the city compares to the state as a whole and to its other major cities (Buffalo, Syracuse, Yonkers and Rochester).

“We want to be sure students progress every years,” Bloomberg said. “How do you measure progress? Against the rest of the state.”

That’s a far different tact than the one Bloomberg and Klein took in 2009, when Buffalo, Syracuse and Rochester recorded larger gains than New York.

While New York City saw its reading score rise by 1.5 percent point and its math by 3.3 points, the state score dropped 1.3 points in English and showed a 1.8 point gain in math. Despite this, the city still lags the state as a whole. Two thirds of state students scored a three or four in math; 57.6 managed that in English.

But all the other cities saw their scores drop from last year, some with strikingly low results. In Syracuse, for example, less than a quarter – 22.5 percent – of students achieved proficiency in English. In all of the cities except Yonkers, less than a third of students could be considered proficient in math.

The Great Gap

The mayor also noted all racial groups, students with disabilities and English language learners recorded some gains on the math test and all but English language learners saw their scores rise on the reading test. Black students achieved the biggest gain – with a 2.2 percentage point gain in the number of students achieving proficiency on the English test this year and 3.8 percent point more doing so on the their math test.

Despite the gain and the mayor’s frequent claims to the contrary, the so-called achievement gap between blacks and Hispanics as opposed to whites and Asians remains essentially unchanged over the course of his administration.

The gaps persist across the state but the differences between races in the state as a whole are not as large as they are in the city. The gap between Hispanics and whites on the math test statewide came out to 23.1 percentage points, compared to 28.7 percentage points in the city. Among blacks, the gap in the city was more than 4 percentage points greater than in the state overall. Similar discrepancies exist in the reading test.

The scores for English language learners and students with disabilities remain very low. Only 12.4 percent of the English language learners and 14.2 percent of student with disabilities met the standards in English. In math, the scores were better: 34.5 percent of English language learners being proficient and 27.3 percent of students with disabilities.

Middle School Gains, Elementary Losses

Picking and choosing numbers presents hazards, but middle school math scores seem to present a clear sign of success. In 2006, when the current test system came into use, only 38.9 percent of eight graders scored proficient. Math achievement showed a steady gain from 2006 until the recalibration of 2010. It improved this year, though, with 52.5 percent of eight graders deemed proficient. This is more than the percentage for third graders – a striking fact in a system where at time it has seemed the more years students stay in school the more their achievement lags. In addition, more students score proficient now than they did for in 2007, in the heart of the dumb test era.

Middle school reading told a different – and grimmer — story. Only 36.6 percent of seventh graders and 35 percent of eight graders were considered proficient this year. In both grades, the number of students getting a level three or four in reading declined from 2010 to 2011.

Fourth grade achievement is also questionable. On math 62.3 percent of the children now rank proficient, lower than the percentage in 2003, before the Bloomberg changes had really taken effect. (Over the years the administration and its critics have differed over what year one should use as a benchmark.) In English, the number of fourth graders meeting standards now sits 1.5 percentage points lower than it did in 2003.

By on August 8, 2011, 10:10 pm
In category: Gotham City | 1 Comment »

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One Response to “Test Scores: Better than Buffalo”

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    October 11th, 2011 at 8:57 pm

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