Apologies to Ken Hirsh for temporarily usurping his role as chief charter school correspondent... Both the New York Daily News and the New York Post are touting the high pass rates achieved by New York City's charter school students on this year's state math assessment. By my count, nearly 91% of the charter school students in grade 3 through 8 scored at Level 3 or Level 4 on the state assessment, which represents a very high rate of proficiency. Buoyed by these results—which of course pertain to schools for which he has minimal responsibility—Chancellor Joel Klein said, "Charter schools have not only closed the longstanding achievement gap between New York City and the rest of the state, they have also essentially closed the achievement gap that exists between poor, African-American and Hispanic students and their white peers." Hmm. "essentially" closed? How much wiggle room does that leave? In the chart below, I show that the performance gap between students in charter schools and white and Asian students citywide persists at every grade level.
It's not news to report that statistics can be deceptive. But when a new set of test scores come out, it's worth repeating nonetheless. Teachers College sociologist Aaron Pallas tackles the subject in the Community section of GothamSchools today, by taking a closer look at two middle schools that the Post has recently highlighted for exceptional performance and finding that both schools admit their students selectively. He writes: Due to their selective admissions, IS 187 and, to a lesser extent, IS 364 were born on third base. The New York Post thinks they hit a triple. Some schools might have hit something closer to a home run. Manhattan's citywide Anderson School, for instance, admitted every single one of its students in grades 3-8 on the basis of their scores on an IQ test and in-person interview. Not a single student at Anderson failed the math test, and in fact it was the only school citywide with a clean 100 percent of all students in a single grade scoring at the very highest level, in the sixth grade. Not all successful schools handpick their students.
According to Mayor Bloomberg, under his leadership New York City's schools have experienced rising graduation rates, soaring test scores, and unprecedented accountability. In blog posts, newspaper op/eds, and research papers, his critics have charged that the evidence doesn't support those claims. Now, those critics have collected their analysis in a single volume. The book, bluntly titled "NYC Schools Under Bloomberg and Klein: What Parents, Teachers, and Policymakers Need to Know," is intended to "to ignite a genuine debate and dialogue about the future of the New York City public school system," according to the introduction by Diane Ravitch, the education historian and Bloomberg foe. Published in conjunction with Class Size Matters, the nonprofit run by activist parent Leonie Haimson, the book contains essays by 17 scholars, advocates, and politicians who have long contended that the city is overstating how much schools have improved under the current administration. In some cases, the essayists argue that the city schools have actually deteriorated in the last seven years.
The New York Times appears to have gone with two different versions of the math scores story. The beginning of the story that made it online yesterday takes a more critical look at the scores, emphasizing Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch's cautious stance. However, the first several paragraphs in the version that ran in print today (which, yes, had to be pointed out to us by someone over 40) highlight the city's math score gains and quote Mayor Bloomberg celebrating the news as evidence of his administration's success. Further down, today's story includes the voices of experts who questioned the significance of the results, which yesterday's story did not have. Both were bylined by education reporter Javier Hernandez -- his response is below. Monday's online version: New York City's public school students showed large gains on state math tests this year, particularly in the middle school grades, the State Education Department announced on Monday. But officials cautioned that the results could be overstated and said that the state was considering making it harder to pass the tests. In New York City, 82 percent of students in grades three through eight passed the test, compared with 74 percent last year. Statewide, 86 percent of students passed the test this year, compared with 81 percent last year.
ON TEST SCORES: Math scores are up; experts are urging caution before celebrating. (Times, Daily News, GothamSchools) Mayor Bloomberg called the scores "an enormous victory." (Post) Union leader Randi Weingarten praised mayoral control at the test score briefing. (Daily News, WNYC) The Post praises Weingarten's "epiphany" about mayoral control. The Daily News says the math scores support continued mayoral control: "Let's not mess with success." Folks at Brooklyn's PS 335 attribute gains there to planning meetings and learning walks. (Daily News) IS 187 in Dyker Heights has really high test scores. (Post) At Carl Icahn Charter School in the Bronx, students say their high scores come from hard work. (Post) AND MORE: Does it matter that there are almost no teachers at the top in the city DOE? City Limits tries to answer. Tennis is the new it game in some city public schools. (WABC) After parents boycotted PS 209 in the Bronx because of flu fears, the city closed the school. (Daily News) Arne Duncan's plan to turn around thousands of failing schools will be really hard to execute. (Times) In Korea, some are trying to achieve equity by putting test prep cram classes online. (Times) Learn NY, the pro-mayoral control group, just finished a five-borough rally tour. (NY1) Schools in Brooklyn's District 20 are the most crowded in the entire city. (Daily News)
After announcing at the eleventh hour that it was giving up on moving into a Marine Park public school building, a new charter school is struggling to come up with a plan B. The school says it is still pursuing the possibility of moving into public space before its Aug. 24 opening date, but the city is suggesting that the possibility is a remote one. The Hebrew Language Academy charter school on Friday withdrew its bid for space at a middle school in Brooklyn's Marine Park neighborhood, days after a protest against the school drew hundreds of angry community members. "After the CEC public hearing on Tuesday, no matter how much we believe that we would be good neighbors, it was obvious that we could not accomplish our goals at I.S. 278 in Marine Park," the school's founder, Sara Berman, said in a statement this weekend. A spokesman for the school, Dan Gerstein, told me today that HLA is "regrouping and moving as quickly and aggressively at finding an alternate site," and that it is continuing to seek space in an existing public school. He said the school is also considering private space and is working closely with the department to find a suitable home for the school. A DOE spokeswoman, Melody Meyer, says the school is not currently being considered for public space.
A new report is urging school districts across the country to beef up their methods of evaluating teachers, which the report describes as so slipshod as to be "largely meaningless." The report, by a nonprofit group that has clashed with teachers unions in the past, describes the poor evaluations as "just one symptom of a larger, more fundamental crisis—the inability of our schools to assess instructional performance accurately or to act on this information in meaningful ways." The report is called "The Widget Effect" because accuses districts of treating all teachers alike, regardless of how much they help students learn. It goes on: This inability not only keeps schools from dismissing consistently poor performers, but also prevents them from recognizing excellence among top-performers or supporting growth among the broad plurality of hardworking teachers who operate in the middle of the performance spectrum. Instead, school districts default to treating all teachers as essentially the same, both in terms of effectiveness and need for development. The report, conducted by The New Teacher Project, a nonprofit founded by the lightning-rod D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, calls on districts to develop more robust teacher evaluation systems that reward successful teachers and easily identify less successful teachers. The report comes amid a growing push to improve teaching quality across the country. President Obama has said that teachers who are not helping students learn should be removed from classrooms, and even the national American Federation of Teachers union is working internally to build a new method of evaluating teacher quality. The report bases its findings on surveys of thousands of teachers and administrators across four states and 12 school districts, plus a scouring of the districts' evaluation records. New York City was not one of the districts studied.
A slide from the state's test score PowerPoint presentation The results of the 2009 state math test are in, and state officials are welcoming them as a sign of overall, if modest, improvement. More students across the state in grades 3-8 met the proficiency standards than in the previous four years, with 86.4 percent of them scoring proficient, compared to 80.7 percent last year and just 65 percent in 2006, when the state instituted a new math curriculum. In New York City, the percentage of students that met the state's proficiency standard jumped to 81.8 percent this year from 74.3 percent in 2008. Unlike with this year's reading test scores, the math test scores showed similar increases in the percentage of students testing as proficient or better and the scale scores that students posted. Statewide, scale scores, which are considered the most statistically useful way to evaluate test score gains, rose by six points in 2009. New York City slightly edged out the rest of the state, with an 8-point scale score gain.
When the 2009 state English Language Arts test scores were released by New York City last month, the news seemed quite good. The percentage of students judged proficient increased in every grade, and proficiency rates were higher for Black, Hispanic and white students, leading Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel Klein to proclaim great pleasure at the closing of the achievement gap. Students in NYC were "closing the shameful achievement gap faster than ever," said Mayor Mike. Chancellor Klein reiterated this, saying, ""I'm especially pleased that we are closing the shameful achievement gap between black and Hispanic students and their white peers faster than ever." Just how much progress has New York City made in closing the achievement gap? The figure below tells the story. In 2003, the average white student in grades three through eight scored .74 standard deviations higher than the average Black student and the average Hispanic student, and the average Asian student scored .70 standard deviations higher than the average Black student and the average Hispanic student. Put differently, in 2003, the average Black student and the average Hispanic scored at the 43rd percentile of the citywide distribution, whereas the average white student scored at the 71st percentile, and the average Asian student at the 70th percentile.