From 2014: City scores on state tests jump slightly as schools adjust to Common Core

New York City’s recovery from a testing reality check got off to a promising start in 2014.

One year after scores plummeted following the state’s adoption of Common Core-aligned tests, city students collectively outpaced the rest of New York on both the math and English exams. In math, 34.2 percent of city students passed the exams, up 4.6 points from last year. In English, 28.4 percent of students passed, a one-point gain, according to city figures.

The city’s gains meant it shrank the gap between its English scores and the state’s to the slimmest margin since 2006. Statewide, 35.8 percent of students were considered proficient in math this year, and 31.4 percent of students considered proficient in English. But achievement gaps among city students remain wide.

“It’s a story of modest but real progress,” Board of Regents Chancellor Meryl Tisch said.

The numbers still show that the vast majority of New York’s students are not at their grade level in reading, writing, and math. But they also show that more struggling students were making progress out of the lowest category.

On a conference call with reporters, state education officials emphasized that they now believed the scores were an authentic indication of student academic proficiency. Test scores were widely seen as grossly inflated in 2009, when city proficiency rates reached 82 percent in math and 69 percent in English.

Commissioner John King attributed the city’s overall progress to its early implementation of the Common Core standards, citing the Common Core fellows program and strong professional development.

They started early on the Common Core,” King said. “I think that’s a factor.”

City students in all racial and ethnic groups did better on this year’s tests than last year, and state officials also said that indicated a narrowing achievement gap. But the numbers show that scores of white and Asian students improved more than those of their black and Hispanic peers — meaning that for the second straight year, the so-called achievement gap actually widened in most categories.

For instance, the math-proficiency gap between the city’s white and black students jumped by more than two points to 37.2 points this year. In English, it jumped 30.5 to 31.3 points. The gaps in both subjects also widened between white and Hispanic students, from 31.5 points to 32.7 points in math and 30.2 points to 31.7 points in English, as well as between Asian students and all other groups.

Success Academy, which puts an enormous emphasis on preparing its students to take the state tests, quickly released its overall performance, showing its students’ outperformed the rest of the city by a wide margin. In math, 94 percent of its students passed the math exam, while 64 percent passed the English exam.

State officials estimated that at least 105,000 students didn’t take at least one of this year’s exams. King said that about half of those were eighth graders who were allowed to skip the math exam because they were taking a high school-level Regents as a replacement. He said that between 55,000 and 60,000 additional students did not take this year’s exam, which a spokesperson said was up from as few as 10,000 students last year. The spike is likely attributed to a parent-led movement to opt their children out of taking the exams in protest of the state’s testing policies.

City student math proficiency rates | Create Infographics

City student ELA proficiency rates | Create Infographics


Here is the state’s full report:

a 'meaningful' education?

How a Colorado court case could change how public schools everywhere serve students with special needs

Dougco headquarters in Castle Rock (John Leyba/The Denver Post).

The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday grappled with the question of what kind of education public schools must provide students with disabilities, hearing arguments in a case that originated with a complaint against a suburban Denver school district and that could have profound implications nationwide.

The case involves a student diagnosed with autism and attention deficit/hyperactive disorder. His parents pulled him out of his Douglas County elementary school, saying he wasn’t making enough progress and the district’s response was lacking.

They enrolled the boy in a private school for children with autism and asked the district to reimburse them for the tuition, arguing their son was due a “free appropriate public education” as required by the 1975 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

The law spells out the requirements states must meet to receive federal money to educate special-needs students. The district declined, saying it had met the standard of the law.

The family eventually filed a lawsuit against the district. Lower courts all sided with the district, reasoning that it had provided the child “some” educational benefit — the standard cited in the federal statute at issue.

Lower courts across the nation have varied in their definition of the proper standard. The high court arguments Wednesday centered on whether “some” benefit was good enough, or whether special-needs students deserve a more “meaningful” benefit.

Jeffrey Fisher, an attorney for the boy’s family, told the justices that as a general rule, individualized education plans for special education students should include “a level of educational services designed to allow the child to progress from grade to grade in the general curriculum.”

Throughout the arguments, the justices expressed frustration with what Justice Samuel Alito described as “a blizzard of words” that the law and courts have used to define what’s appropriate for special needs students.

Chief Justice John Roberts said regardless of the term used, “the whole package has got to be helpful enough to allow the student to keep up with his peers.”

Neal Katyal, an attorney for the school district, argued that providing children “some benefit” is a reasonable standard.

“That’s the way court after court has interpreted it,” he said. “It’s worked well. This court shouldn’t renege on that.”

Ron Hager, senior staff attorney for special education at the National Disability Rights Network, attended the oral arguments Wednesday and said he was optimistic the lower court’s ruling would be overturned.

He said if the Supreme Court does overturn the federal Tenth Circuit Court’s ruling and requires a higher standard, it won’t necessarily come with major financial costs for school districts. Instead, he said, it will nudge them to be proactive and provide teacher training and intervention services early on instead of waiting until problems — and the expenses associated with them — snowball later.

Marijo Rymer, executive director of the Arc of Colorado, which advocates on behalf of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, said she was heartened to see the case advance to the Supreme Court. Establishing a clearer standard on what constitutes a fair and appropriate education for students with disabilities is a civil rights issue, she said.

“It’s critical that federal law, which is what this is based on, be reinforced and supported, and the court is in the position to deliver that message to the nation’s schools and the taxpayers that fund them,” Rymer said.

Both Hager and Rymer acknowledged that even if the Supreme Court establishes a new, higher standard, it could be open to interpretation. Still, they said it would send a strong message to school districts about their responsibilities to students with disabilities.

Summer remix

Ten stories you may have missed this summer (and should read now as the new school year kicks in)

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Gabrielle Colburn, 7, adds her artistic flair to a mural in downtown Memphis in conjunction with the XQ Super Schools bus tour in June.

Labor Day used to signal the end of summer break and the return to school. That’s no longer the case in Tennessee, but the long holiday is a good time to catch up on all that happened over the summer. Here are 10 stories to get you up to speed on K-12 education in Tennessee and its largest school district.

TNReady is back — with a new test maker.

Last school year ended on a cliffhanger, with the State Department of Education canceling its end-of-year tests for grades 3-8 in the spring and firing testmaker Measurement Inc. after a series of missteps. In July, Commissioner Candice McQueen announced that Minnesota-based Questar will pick up where Measurement Inc. left off. She also outlined the state’s game plan for standardized tests in the coming year.

But fallout over the state’s failed TNReady test in 2015-16 will be felt for years.

The one-year void in standardized test scores has hit Tennessee at the heart of its accountability system, leaving the state digging for other ways to assess whether all of its students are improving.

Speaking of accountability, Tennessee also is updating that plan under a new federal education law.

The state Department of Education has been working with educators, policymakers and community members on new ways to evaluate schools in answer to the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which requires states to judge schools by non-academic measures as well as test scores.

Meanwhile, issues of race and policing have educators talking about how to foster conversations about social justice in school.

In the wake of police-related killings that rocked the nation, five Memphis teachers talked about how they tackle difficult conversations about race all year long.

School closures made headlines again in Memphis — with more closings likely.

Closing schools has become an annual event as Tennessee’s largest district loses students and funding, and this year was no exception. The shuttering of Carver and Northside high schools brought the total number of district-run school closures to at least 21 since 2012. And more are likely. This month, Shelby County Schools is scheduled to release a facilities analysis that should set the stage for future closures. Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has said the district needs to shed as many as two dozen schools — and 27,000 seats — over the next four years. A Chalkbeat analysis identifies 25 schools at risk.

Exacerbating the challenges of shifting enrollment, families in Foote Homes scrambled to register their children for school as Memphis’ last public housing project prepared to close this month amid a delay in delivering housing vouchers to move elsewhere.

The new school year has officially begun, with the budget approved not a moment too soon for Shelby County Schools.

District leaders that began the budget season facing an $86 million shortfall eventually convinced county commissioners to significantly increase local funding, while also pulling some money from the school system’s reserve funds. The result is a $959 million budget that gives most of the district’s teachers a 3 percent raise and restores funding for positions deemed critical for continued academic progress.

The district also unveiled its first annual report on its growing sector of charter schools.

With charter schools now firmly entrenched in Memphis’ educational landscape, a Shelby County Schools analysis shows a mixed bag of performance, while calling on traditional and charter schools to learn from each other and promising better ways to track quality.