State says ELA scores are up a little bit. What's your take?

In just a little while, we’ll have some analysis of the newly released state English language arts test scores, which show that children in grades 3 through 8 are, on average, more proficient in reading and writing than they were last year, by 7 percentage points. But first we need your help sorting through the numbers morass! (State Education Department Commissioner Richard Mills wasn’t lying when he said at a press conference today, “We’re going to give you more data than you’ve ever seen before.”)

The broadcast of today’s state press conference, as well as the slide show that Mills presented there, is now online. The state also made available an enormous PDF of every single school’s proficiency breakdowns and scale scores, by grade. And for the really ambitious armchair data analysts, there’s also a 5-megabyte Microsoft Access database of all of the state’s raw data.

I’ve posted the state’s full press release, which touts “steady, moderate growth” across the state, after the jump. Feel free to leave a comment with your insights about the data dump.


Achievement in English in grades 3-8 has improved overall this year, according to 2009 test results announced today by Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch and State Education Commissioner Richard Mills.

Seventy-seven percent of students across grades 3-8 achieved the standards in English this year, compared with 68 percent last year. And across the various groups of students, fewer showed serious academic problems in English. Despite these improvements, many students are still not meeting the standards.

Testing of students in English in each grade, 3 through 8, began in 2006. Prior to that, students were tested only in 4th and 8th grade. In 2006, the Regents also adopted a grade-by-grade curriculum that sets clear expectations for instruction.

The grade-by-grade tests, together with the individual student data system, enable the Department to track the academic growth of classes of students over time. It is now possible to see, for example, how students who were third graders in 2006 are performing this year as sixth graders. In the past, the Department was able to look only at specific grade levels and how those grade levels compared from year to year. Both types of data – growth over time as well as year to year comparisons – are being presented today.

“The Regents are committed to an open evaluation of data. We’ve therefore asked the Commissioner to examine today’s results in terms of the percentage of students meeting the standards as well as student growth over time,” Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch said. “By focusing on scale scores, a clearer picture of student performance emerges. That picture shows progress, but also points to the areas needing additional attention, particularly for children in the gap. ”

State Education Commissioner Richard Mills said, “These results show that the children who began the grade-by-grade curriculum in the early grades are making bigger gains than those who started later. And the children who took the third grade test this year performed better still –showing that state foundation aid, pre-K, and rigorous instruction are paying off. ”

Today’s results indicate that students who began the 3-8 grade-by-grade curriculum in the early grades typically make bigger gains as they progress through school than did older students who started the grade-by-grade curriculum in later grades. Middle school performance, which was very low when the grade 3-8 curriculum began four years ago, has improved significantly over time – indicating that these students are better prepared to do high school-level work.

The results also show that while the percentage of students meeting the standards has gone up significantly, average scale scores show only moderate improvements as students progress from one grade to the next. The average student scale score across all grades, 3-8, increased by only four points this year, as compared with three points last year and two the year before that. Over time, many students have improved their performance enough to move over the line from Level 2 to Level 3, indicating proficiency. But the increase in the average scale score for those students over time was often smaller.

Among the reasons credited for the overall progress of students on the English exams are the following:

  • The State has invested significantly more resources in education over time.
  • Universal pre-kindergarten has been expanding and reaching more students each year, so children are better prepared for school.
  • The Regents adopted a grade-by-grade curriculum in 2006, helping to better guide instruction. Schools are aligning their instruction with the grade-by-grade curriculum.
  • Schools have created literacy teams of teachers and are increasing professional development opportunities to improve instruction.

The achievement gap in English continues to slowly close, and similar trends are emerging for different groups of students over time. Following are some examples:

  • Students with Disabilities: More students with disabilities met the standards as they progressed from one grade to the next (except among this year’s eighth graders). As well, fewer students with disabilities are scoring at Level 1 (i.e., showing serious academic difficulties) as they progress through the grades. For example, 37.3 percent of students with disabilities who took the English exam in 2006 as third graders scored at Level 1; only 0.7 percent of those same students scored at Level 1 when they took the exam this year as sixth graders. While the results for students with disabilities have improved overall, they remain low.
  • English Language Learners (ELLs): More of this year’s fourth, fifth, and sixth grade ELLs have advanced to Levels 3 and 4 as they have moved through the grades. The percentage of ELLs scoring at Level 1 has decreased significantly. For example, 31.5 percent of ELLs who took the English exam in 2006 as third graders scored at Level 1; only 0.8 percent of those same students scored at Level 1 when they took the exam this year as sixth graders. Overall performance, however, remains low and the improvements are small.
  • Black and Hispanic Students: Across all grades, black and Hispanic students have experienced significant growth in meeting the standards. Last year, 52.9 percent of black students, across grades 3-8, met the standards; this year 64.3 percent did. Similarly, last year, 52.6 percent of Hispanic students, across grades 3-8, met the standards; this year, 64.8 percent did. These gains exceed the gains achieved by white and Asian students statewide.
  • Need/Resource Categories (NRCs): The various NRCs include: Low Need schools, Average Need schools, Rural schools, Urban-Suburban schools, Large City schools, and New York City schools. Across all grades, 3-8, districts in all NRCs have made significant gains in the percentage of students scoring at Levels 3 and 4. Their scale score gains, however, were generally much smaller.
  • Big 5 School Districts: In each of the Big 5 City School Districts (New York, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and Yonkers), the percentage of students scoring at Levels 3 and 4 has significantly increased over the past four years. And in each of the cities, students’ average scores have also increased over those four years.

New York’s testing system, including the grade 3 through 8 tests, passed a rigorous peer review conducted by the U.S. Department of Education. In addition, distinguished national experts on the state’s Technical Advisory Group meet regularly to review all aspects of New York’s assessment system; that group said that the State used commonly accepted psychometric practices in designing and administering these tests.

Students receive a specific scale score on the tests which falls into one of four levels:

  • Level 4 – Exceeds the learning standards
  • Level 3 – Meets the learning standards
  • Level 2 – Partially meets the learning standards or meets part of the learning standards
  • Level 1 – Shows serious academic problems.

A more detailed breakdown of results as well as school by school results is available on the web at www.nysed.go

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”