Touting city's top test scores, officials visit its most elite schools

Mayor Bloomberg and city officials fanned out across the city today to spread one message: New York City has an outsize share of the state’s top-performing elementary and middle schools.

Twenty-two of the state’s top 25 schools, as defined by the highest average proficiency rates on state recent reading and math exams, are located in the city. That’s up from zero city schools among the top 25 in 2001. The Daily News reported the tidbit last month, and city officials have been repeating it frequently.

“It is as good a verification of what done in the last 12 years as you could possibly hope for,” Bloomberg said of the statistic. Speaking at TAG Young Scholars, an elementary and middle school in East Harlem that serves gifted students and came in 20th statewide, Bloomberg said the school “is representative of an incredible turnaround in our city’s public schools over the last 12 years.”

This year, the city’s proficiency rates did come closer to the state averages, which are buoyed by high-performing suburban districts, than other cities’ in New York. Many schools, such as P.S. 107 in Brooklyn, did better than would be expected given their student populations.

But the 22 schools the city chose to highlight today have student populations nearly as exceptional as their average proficiency rates, an outgrowth of the Bloomberg administration’s policies that emphasize school choice.

Before appearing at TAG, Chancellor Dennis Walcott visited the Anderson School, which had a 97 percent average proficiency on last year’s reading and math tests but also serves only gifted students. Of the 22 schools officials visited today, 13 are selective, meaning that they screen their applicants and serve only students who score well on the city’s gifted and talented exams or other tests, and another school screens some students for a gifted program. The Special Music School, for example, screens students heavily for musical aptitude.

Another four schools only served students through third grade last year, meaning that their scores come from a smaller group of students than other schools and cannot easily be compared to them. A few are zoned schools in areas with many middle-class families, such as Park Slope and the Upper West Side.

Walcott said those schools’ scores still illustrated a broad pattern of improvement, and he pointed to the fact that some of the schools were in existence back in 2001 and didn’t make the state’s top 25 then. He also highlighted the list’s zoned schools, including P.S. 203 in Bayside, Queens.

“We created a number of the schools, as the mayor indicated, so whether they’re choice schools, screened schools, they’re still schools in the New York City public schools system,” Walcott said.

Policies favoring school choice have also led to a concentration of high-needs students in some schools, as others have enrolled relatively few of those students. When asked about the concentration of white and Asian students at the city’s top-scoring schools, Bloomberg pointed to the classrooms he visited at TAG. “In both classrooms it was 100 percent the reverse,” he said.

TAG serves the highest percentage of black students of any selective school on the list — 40.59 percent in the 2012-2013 school year. A GothamSchools analysis shows that the 22 top schools have an average of just 12.2 percent black students and 16.9 percent Hispanic students, far below the citywide averages. Today, about 71 percent of city students are black or Hispanic.

The schools officials visited today have an average of 8.2 percent special education students and 4.7 percent English language learners, also below the citywide averages of 17 and 15.5 percent, respectively. (The outliers here: P.S. 172 in Brooklyn, a zoned school in Sunset Park with more than 25 percent English language learners and 21 percent special education students, and two Success Academy charter schools with third grades only, each with more than 58 percent black students.)

A Department of Education spokeswoman today said many more schools besides these 22 have outperformed other schools statewide. Twenty-two percent of city schools are in the top quarter of schools statewide, up from 9 percent in 2002.

“Twelve years ago, I don’t think anyone would have thought that possible,” Bloomberg said. “New York City schools ahead of those in the suburbs? People would say, as Marty Markowitz would say, fuhgeddaboutit. It was inconceivable.”