First Person

Charter Schools’ 2009-2010 Test Data: Who Is Still Proficient?

As discussed here and here, the state released the results of the 2009-2010 Grade 3-8 Math and English language arts test results last week. The focus has been on the new, higher bar for passing the tests and the resulting large drop in the percentage of students judged as proficient. Charter schools, like traditional public schools across the city, saw their much-touted proficiency gains plummet. Barbara Martinez at the Wall Street Journal did a good job of summarizing charter schools’ results in New York City. In order to give a more complete picture, I analyzed the 2009-2010 results for charters to see which schools performed best and how the schools performed compared to their traditional public school counterparts. I also posted data on individual schools below and in this spreadsheet.

PROFICIENCY

I defined proficiency in the customary way: as the proportion of students at a charter school that scored a Level 3 or higher on the ELA or math tests. In order to look at overall school performance, I averaged the proficiency rate across grade levels broken down by subject, and then took the average of both the ELA and math tests to come up with a single “proficiency” number. The schools that had the highest average proficiency rates were Harlem Success Academy, Icahn Charter School 2, the Bronx Charter School for Excellence, and the Williamsburg Collegiate Charter School. (The other two Icahn Schools also scored in the top 10 of all charter schools.) To be clear, different schools serve different grades and comparing performance across grades can be misleading.

I’ve posted a chart below that lists the average proficiency rates as well as the ELA and math proficiency rates, for every charter school that posted test results during the 2009-2010 school year. Scroll over the name of the school to find out what grades the school services, which grades were tested, and other salient information relating to the school’s performance.

Dashboard 2
Dashboard 2

PEER PERFORMANCE

I also compared average charter school performance to average traditional public school performance in neighborhoods in which there is a large cluster of charter schools. This gives a rough sense of how charters compare to traditional public schools with somewhat similar demographics. The neighborhoods I chose were the same that the UFT looked at in their analysis of charter schools: the South Bronx, Central Brooklyn, and Harlem.

Using this simple metric, I found that charters in the South Bronx, Harlem, and Central Brooklyn performed much better than their traditional public school counterparts. Average charter proficiency in all three neighborhoods was about 50% compared to 35% in traditional public schools. Charters performed significantly better in math than traditional public schools, which mirrors the trend citywide. Charter schools located in the South Bronx in particular had a proficiency rate that was around 25 points higher than that of traditional public schools in the same neighborhood. The chart below summarizes my findings.

Dashboard 3
Dashboard 3

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My analysis of charter school test performance did not take into account demographics, such as the proportion of ELL or special education students or the number of students who are eligible for free or reduced priced lunch. These factors, of course, can make a significant difference in test performance.

As always, I welcome your feedback for ways that I can improve this analysis, as well as other methods that I could use to make the data more understandable.

First Person

Two fewer testing days in New York? Thank goodness. Here’s what else our students need

PHOTO: Christina Veiga

Every April, I feel the tension in my fifth-grade classroom rise. Students are concerned that all of their hard work throughout the year will boil down to six intense days of testing — three for math and three for English language arts.

Students know they need to be prepared to sit in a room for anywhere from 90 minutes to three hours with no opportunity to leave, barring an emergency. Many of them are sick to their stomachs, feeling more stress than a 10-year-old ever should, and yet they are expected to perform their best.

Meanwhile, teachers are frustrated that so many hours of valuable instruction have been replaced by testing, and that the results won’t be available until students are moving on to other classrooms.

This is what testing looks like in New York state. Or, at least it did. Last month, state officials voted to reduce testing from three days for each subject to two, to the elation of students, parents, and teachers across New York. It’s an example of our voices being heard — but there is still more to be done to make the testing process truly useful, and less stressful, for all of us.

As a fifth-grade teacher in the Bronx, I was thrilled by the news that testing time would be reduced. Though it doesn’t seem like much on paper, having two fewer days of gut-wrenching stress for students as young as eight means so much for their well-being and education. It gives students two more days of classroom instruction, interactive lessons, and engagement in thought-provoking discussions. Any reduction in testing also means more time with my students, since administrators can pull teachers out of their classrooms for up to a week to score each test.

Still, I know these tests provide us with critical data about how students are doing across our state and where we need to concentrate our resources. The changes address my worries about over-testing, while still ensuring that we have an objective measure of what students have learned across the state.

For those who fear that cutting one-third of the required state testing hours will not provide teachers with enough data to help our students, understand that we assess them before, during, and after each unit of study, along with mid-year tests and quizzes. It is unlikely that one extra day of testing will offer any significant additional insights into our students’ skills.

Also, the fact that we receive students’ state test results months later, at the end of June, means that we are more likely to have a snapshot of where are students were, rather than where they currently are — when it’s too late for us to use the information to help them.

That’s where New York can still do better. Teachers need timely data to tailor their teaching to meet student needs. As New York develops its next generation of tests and academic standards, we must ensure that they are developmentally appropriate. And officials need to continue to emphasize that state tests alone cannot fully assess a student’s knowledge and skills.

For this, parents and teachers must continue to demand that their voices are heard. Until then, thank you, New York Regents, for hearing us and reducing the number of testing days.

In my classroom, I’ll have two extra days to help my special needs students work towards the goals laid out in their individualized education plans. I’ll take it.

Rich Johnson teaches fifth grade at P.S. 105 in the Bronx.

First Person

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

PHOTO: Stephanie Snyder

High schools have become obsessed with “million-dollar scholars,” and it’s hurting students.

Across Memphis, students often are pushed by counselors to apply to as many colleges as possible — as many as 100 — all to push students to reach that million-dollar scholarship mark. The more dollars and college acceptance, the better!

I graduated in 2016, and my experience offers a case study.

I’m a pretty well-rounded individual: In high school, I was a finalist in the Let’s Innovate Through Education program and was able to launch SousChef-Memphis, a culinary nonprofit organization. I was a dual-enrollment student and took honors courses. I was committed to community service. I was vice president of my high school organization, Modern Distinctive Ladies. I was on the bowling team, managed the basketball team, and participated in debate forensics and drama.

I was also told by counselors to apply to 100 colleges. I was never told why that number was chosen, but my peers were told the same. We were often pulled out of class to complete these applications, which took away from instructional time — about an hour per day. My high school also ran on an infraction system, and not turning in college applications and other documents led to disciplinary actions.

The quality of those applications only shed a dim light on the student and person that I am. A hundred applications was never my goal. A hundred applications doesn’t measure the capability, intelligence or worth of me as a student. A hundred applications is just ridiculous!

Schools with similar approaches, though, get glowing media coverage. Meanwhile, a lot of that scholarship money is irrelevant, since a single student obviously can only attend one school.

I think that if I had been counseled properly, I would have had a better grasp on my high school-to-college transition. I ultimately chose to leave Memphis to attend another state university on a full scholarship. Looking back, that school was not the best fit for me. I returned to Memphis to attend our local public university.

A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.

I was more than capable of getting back on track, and I did. But not every student can afford to go through what I went through.

High schools need to realize that, while students amassing millions of dollars in scholarships and hundreds of college acceptance letters seems like an accomplishment, the outcome for many students is the total opposite.

Too many students end up not going to a school that is the best fit for them, taking on piles of debt, and dropping out with no workforce experience.

The goal should be that each high school student will graduate having a grasp on their career path (and experience in that field), scholarships to the school of their choice (full rides or little to no debt), and be confident in where they will be spending the next four to six years of their life. Being thorough in the college search and submitting quality applications is what leads to a college that is the best fit for the student, obtaining scholarships, and ultimately graduating.

Here’s what I wish a counselor had told me:

"It is time to start thinking about quality over quantity. Quality counseling. Quality applications. And quality choices about what to do next."Anisah Karim

Try things you like, but don’t overload yourself. Look for summer internships that pay, rather than minimum-wage jobs. Build a network of people who can help you make good decisions about college and work. Research schools with a major you’re interested in, and find out what scholarships they offer. Keep an eye on your GPA and make sure you’re taking the classes you need to graduate. Apply for colleges when applications open and submit the FAFSA form in October.

And most importantly, through all four years of high school, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

It is time to start thinking about quality over quantity. Quality counseling. Quality applications. And quality choices about what to do next.

Anisah Karim is a psychology student at the University of Memphis. She plans to continue her education in speech pathology and otology and eventually start her own private practice. She also plans to launch two new business ventures in the fall and relaunch SousChef in the fall of 2018.