2015 state tests

New York City scores on state tests inch up as opt-out movement triples

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/Denver Post
Assistant attorney general Jonathan Fero, center, addresses the Colorado Supreme Court in 2013 at a hearing for another education case, Lobato vs. State of Colorado.

New York City’s scores on state tests continued to inch up in 2015, though the number of students refusing to sit for the tests this year tripled.

Just over 35 percent of city students in grades three through eight passed the math exams, up one point over last year. In English, just over 30 percent of students passed, a two-point increase over last year that brought the city closer than ever to the state average, according to figures released Wednesday.

“For the second straight year and for the first year fully on our watch, New York City’s children have raised up their test scores in both math and English,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

The state also released final tallies of the number of students who opted out of the tests, after that movement saw dramatic growth over the last year. Twenty percent of eligible students statewide opted out of the tests, following waves of parent protests in many districts and the encouragement of the state teacher’s union.

In the city, the numbers were smaller. Only 1.8 percent of test-takers boycotted the math tests and 1.4 percent sat out the English tests — a tiny fraction of students, but a more than threefold increase over 2014’s percentage and a major increase over the roughly 350 students who opted out in 2013.

The city’s modest test-score gains were shared by every racial and ethnic group, though not every grade. Third, fourth, and eighth graders saw very slight declines in math scores, while all grade levels saw English scores rise. Still, fewer than one in five Hispanic and black students passed the exams, while more than half of white and Asian students did. The gaps were even wider for students who are still learning English.

[See what city schools saw the biggest gains and dips here.]

Still, the results were good news for Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Fariña. 2015 was their first full school year at the helm of the city school system, and the third year since officials adjusted the tests to align with the Common Core standards, which sent scores tumbling in 2013. Earlier this year, city officials lost their fight with state lawmakers

“My guess is that the mayor and chancellor are breathing a sigh of relief, considering the kind of siege they’re under form some media and state policymakers,” said Aaron Pallas, a professor of education and sociology at Teachers College.

The state’s proficiency rates remain higher than New York City’s, though the city has nearly closed that gap in recent years.

Across the state, 38.1 percent of test-takers met the state’s proficiency bar in math this year, up from 36.2 percent last year. In English, 31.3 percent earned a proficient score, up from 30.6 percent last year, which state officials called “modest progress.”

Officials also released detailed demographic information about the students across the state who sat out the tests. Those students were more likely to be white, from wealthier districts, and were more likely not to have passed last year’s test, according to the state education department. In New York City, 39 percent of the students who opted out of the tests did not earn a passing score in 2014, the department said.

The fact that so many of the boycotting students did not pass last year’s tests suggests that this year’s statewide results could be slanted in some way. The large number of opt-outs in the state, but relatively few in the city, could also muddy city-state comparisons.

“There is no question that when you have approximately 20 percent of students not take the tests, the results would have variation based on that,” Elia said.

The city’s charter schools continued to outdo citywide proficiency rates in math, but lag in English. Proficiency rates at charter schools increased from 28 percent to 29.3 percent in English, and from 43.9 percent to 44.2 percent in math. Those rates have improved at a slower rate than the district-school averages.

See more city-specific data here, and the statewide data here.

father knows best

How a brush with death convinced one dad to get his diploma, with a boost from the Fatherhood Academy

PHOTO: Courtesy of Steven Robles
Steven Robles with his family

Steven Robles thought he might not live to see his daughter’s birth.

In May 2016, the 20-year-old was in the hospital after being shot during what he described as an argument in his neighborhood.

A year later, Robles just graduated from City University of New York’s Fatherhood Academy. He passed his high school equivalency exam and is happily celebrating his daughter Avare’s 8-month birthday.

“That conflict is what got me into the program, and what happened to me before she was born motivated me to stay in the program,” Robles said. “It motivated me to manage to pass my GED.”

Robles grew up in Brownsville, Brooklyn and attended Franklin K. Lane High School. Though he liked his teachers, Robles said other students at the school were not “mature enough,” and the disorderly school environment made it hard for him to concentrate.

A quiet student, Robles said teachers would often overlook his presence in the classroom. Between that and friction with other classmates, Robles lost interest in school.

“My parents didn’t try to help me, either,” Robles said. “Nobody really tried to help me with that school, so I just stopped going.”

It was a whole different experience for him once he arrived at the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College, a program run by CUNY for unemployed and underemployed fathers ages 18 through 28. The Academy, now partnering with the New York City Housing Authority at its LaGuardia location, was launched in 2012 and also has programs at Hostos and Kingsborough Community Colleges.

“I have interviewed many of the men who come into the program and I often ask the question, ‘What brought you here?'” said Raheem Brooks, program manager of the Fatherhood Academy at LaGuardia Community College. “Mostly every young man says, ‘I’m here because I want to create a better life for my child than I had.’ So, I think the main theme of the program is that we help promote intergenerational change.”

At the LaGuardia branch, 30 students attend classes three times a week over the course of 16 weeks. Subjects include mathematics, social studies, and writing for students seeking to get their high school equivalency diplomas. Students also attend workshops run by counselors who guide them in professional development and parenting.

Robles found out about the program after seeing a flier for it in his social worker’s office at Graham Windham, a family support services organization. Curious to see what the Academy offered, he called to find out more and officially enrolled after passing a test to prove he could read above seventh-grade level.

“Before the Academy, I was not really into school at all,” Robles said. “But when I got there, it just changed my life. In this program, I didn’t know anybody there, there were no distractions. It made me more focused, and I just really wanted to get my GED and education.”

What helped Robles the most was getting to learn from the other fathers in the class, who were going through similar experiences as him.

“Little things I didn’t know, I learned from them because they were also fathers,” Robles said. “I just liked the way they were teaching us.”

In fact, he liked the Academy so much, he doesn’t plan to leave. He is applying to study criminal justice at LaGuardia Community College and to become a mentor for the Academy next year.

Currently, Robles lives with his grandparents, his daughter and the mother of his child. Getting a place for his family is next on his to-do list, he said.

“Avare always has a smile on her face and always puts a smile on my face,” Robles said. “She motivates me to get up and do what I have to do. Anything I could do for her, I will.”

Though school did not play a huge role in his life growing up, that is not what Robles wants for his daughter. He said after participating in the Academy, he wants to make sure Avare stays motivated and in school.

“I hear a lot from people about how they think they can’t do it,” Robles said. “I almost lost my life before my daughter was born and that motivated me. If I could do it, you could do it.”

Behind the brawl

Three things to know about the Tennessee school behind this week’s graduation brawl

PHOTO: Arlington Community Schools
Arlington High School is a 2,000-plus-student school in suburban Shelby County in southwest Tennessee.

Arlington High School is considered the crown jewel of a 3-year-old district in suburban Shelby County, even as its school community deals with the unwelcome attention of several viral videos showing a fight that broke out among adults attending its graduation ceremony.

The brawl, which reportedly began with a dispute over saved seats, detracted from Tuesday’s pomp and circumstance and the more than $30 million in scholarships earned by the school’s Class of 2017. No students were involved.

“It was unfortunate that a couple of adults in the audience exhibited the behavior they did prior to the ceremony beginning and thus has caused a distraction from the celebration of our students’ accomplishments,” Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Tammy Mason said in a statement.

Here are three things to know about the 13-year-old school in northwest Shelby County.

With more than 2,000 students, Arlington is one of the largest high schools in Shelby County and is part of a relatively new district.

It’s the pride of a suburban municipality that is one of six that seceded from Shelby County Schools in 2014 following the merger of the city and county districts the year before. (School district secessions are a national trend, usually of predominantly white communities leaving predominantly black urban school systems.) More than 70 percent of Arlington’s students are white, and 6 percent are considered economically disadvantaged — in stark contrast to the Memphis district where less than 8 percent are white, and almost 60 percent are considered economically disadvantaged.

The school’s graduation rate is high … and climbing.

Last year, after adding interventions for struggling students, the school’s graduation rate jumped a full point to more than 96 percent. Its students taking the ACT college entrance exam scored an average composite of 22.5 out of a possible 36, higher than the state average of 19.9. But only a fifth scored proficient or advanced in math and a third in English language arts during 2015-16, the last school year for which scores are available and a transition year for Tennessee under a new test.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visits with students at Arlington High School during a 2016 tour.

The school was in the news last August when Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen visited its campus.

The commissioner spoke with students there to kick off her statewide listening tour that’s focused on ways to get students ready for college and career. McQueen highlighted the school’s extracurricular activities and students’  opportunities to intern for or shadow local professionals. She also complimented Arlington for having an engaged education community.