first draft

Test results show "incremental" gains for both city and state

An early look at this year’s state test scores shows that the percentage of students rated “proficient” in reading and math inched upward in New York City and across the state.

In a press release announcing the scores today, state officials called the gains “incremental” but warned that scores still have a long way to go before they show that all students are on a path toward being prepared for college.

According to the data released today, 46.9 percent of city students tested in grades 3-8 met the state’s proficiency standard on the English language arts exam, compared with 44 percent last year. The proportion of students rated proficient in math increased to 60 percent from 57.3 percent a year ago.

City students still lagged behind the state as a whole, where 55 percent of students scored proficient in reading and 65 percent scored proficient in math. But the city’s scores increased by a wider margin than the state’s. Across the state, reading proficiency increased by 2.3 points and math proficiency rose by 1.5 points.

New York City also did better than several of the other large urban districts that it is often compared to. Scores increased in Yonkers and Syracuse, but they fell in Rochester and Buffalo.

“The progress we see this year doesn’t give us a reason to rest – it gives us a reason to strive for even greater gains,” Mayor Bloomberg said in a statement. “There’s still much more work to do, but there’s no question our students are headed in the right direction.”

In press releases, both city and state officials sounded a cautionary tone about the vast numbers of students who are still considered not proficient in the two core subjects.

“There is some positive momentum in these numbers,” Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch said in a statement. “But too many of our students, especially students of color, English Language Learners and special education students, are currently not on a course for college and career readiness.”

Black and Latino students posted score increases greater than the state’s overall rise, but their scores remain low. Students with disabilities saw a slight increase in their math and reading scores. But the percentage of students who are learning the English language rated proficient in reading actually dropped this year to 11.7 percent, from from 12.6 percent last year.

Sean Corcoran, a professor at New York University’s Institute forEducation and Social Policy who researches testing, said the state is right to herald this year’s scores as a sign of incremental improvement. It is particularly remarkable that the proficiency rate rose in a year when the tests were longer and included sample questions aligned to tougher learning standards.

“It says something that they can go up in light of that,” he said.

But Corcoran warned that impending changes to the tests make this year’s gains less relevant — and less predictive of future scores.

“The irony is that this is not going to be comparable to next year,” when the state assessments align to new Common Core standards, he said. “When they change the standards and the content, the numbers are all going to go down.”

Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Dennis Walcott will present the test score data at a press conference this afternoon at City Hall. We’ll report more details from there, and as we crunch the city and state numbers.

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.