slow and steady

New state math scores reflect "measured gains," officials say

NYC scale scores
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.

New York City elementary school students have nearly caught up with the rest of the state in terms of the proportion of students scoring proficient or better, Mayor Bloomberg said in a statement today. (The full press release is at the end of this post.)

New York State’s black and Hispanic students bear most of the responsibility for the scale score increases. Across the state, the scale scores of black and Hispanic students rose by eight points while those of white students rose by five and those of Asian students increased by four points.

During a press conference today, State Education Commissioner Richard Mills repeatedly cautioned against reading the scores as “huge gains,” citing the high proportion of students who did not pass the state exams, particularly those in eighth grade who are set to enter high school unprepared. “We like to see the progress, but it’s not as fast as we want,” he said.

Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said the rising test scores are evidence that New York State should join the standards movement, which would create a national measure to evaluate student performance. (The Washington Post reported today that 46 states and Washington, D.C., have signed on to pursue national standards.) “What today’s scores tell me is not that we should be celebrating…but that New York needs to raise its standards,” Tisch said.

To download the New York State Education Department’s PowerPoint presentation, go here.

And here’s the city’s complete press release:


Gap Reduced by Nearly One-Third since Last Year, is 4 Points or Less in Elementary School Grades

Racial Achievement Gap in Eighth Grade Narrows Faster Than Ever Before

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein today announced that New York City elementary and middle school students made significant gains at every grade level on the State’s annual math test, substantially narrowing the achievement gap with students in the rest of New York State. A total of 81.8 percent of New York City students in grades 3 to 8 are meeting or exceeding grade-level math standards, compared to 88.9 percent of students in the rest of the State. The gap is narrowest in elementary school-2.3 percentage points in third grade, 3.6 points in fourth grade and 4.0 points in fifth grade. Across grades 3 to 8, just 7.1 percentage points separate City students from their peers statewide. That gap narrowed nearly by one-third since last year and has been cut almost in half in the last three years, even as students across the state made progress. This is the result of the substantial progress New York City students made in math at every grade this year, continuing the consistent improvement since Mayor Bloomberg won control of the school system in 2002. The Mayor and Chancellor made the announcement at P.S./ M.S. 15 in the Bronx where they were joined by United Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, Council of School Supervisors and Administrators President Ernest A. Logan, and Principal Eddice Griffin.

“The idea of New York City students performing nearly on par with the rest of New York State would have been unthinkable just a few years ago, but thanks to the hard work of our teachers, principals, and parents, and the students, we’re well on our way to making it a reality,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “Our schools have made a remarkable turnaround since 2002, and New York City is now proof that you shouldn’t have to choose between living in a big city and sending your children to excellent public schools. It’s happening because we are putting children first and holding our schools accountable for results.”

Today, 84.9 percent of students in fourth grade and 71.3 percent of students in eighth grade-the two grades tested by the State since the start of the administration-are meeting or exceeding standards, up from 52.0 percent and 29.8 percent, respectively, in 2002. One in four students is exceeding standards by scoring at the highest level on the test, while just 3.4 percent of students scored at the lowest level on the test. The longstanding racial and ethnic achievement gap continued to narrow. In the eighth grade, black and Hispanic students narrowed the gap with their white peers by more than they have in any other year since 2002. The gap between black and white eighth grade students narrowed by more than it has in the previous six years combined. In addition, English language learners and special education students made larger gains than English-proficient and general education students did.

“I want to congratulate principals, teachers, and parents, who all played a critical role in helping our students continue the remarkable progress they have made since 2002. All of our students are making progress, and we’re continuing to narrow the shameful racial and ethnic achievement gap, especially in eighth grade, where it has been the most persistent,” said Chancellor Klein. “I’d also like to acknowledge the Regents and the State Education Department-especially Commissioner Rick Mills. Today’s results show statewide gains is a testament to their relentless focus on raising academic standards across the State over the last several years.”

“These math scores are further evidence of the incredible gains our schools have made in the past few years,” said Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “They’re also a reminder that we can’t afford to reduce our commitment to providing a quality education for every child. These students, along with their parents and teachers, have worked incredibly hard, and we are extremely proud of their achievement.”

“The across-the-board improvements in math testing announced today are something for all of us to celebrate, particularly kids and their teachers, but also all those who play a supporting role in our school communities,” said UFT President Randi Weingarten. “These scores are a testament to our highly qualified teachers and the hard work going on every day in our classrooms. This is evidence that collaboration is essential. Today’s announcement also speaks to money well spent. The progress we’re seeing illustrates how important it is for the City to protect core educational services by restoring some of the proposed education cuts in the city budget. We are moving forward because in addition to qualified teachers, schools have used a consistent math curriculum, and the resources to offer students things like extra tutoring and academic intervention services.”

“The math scores announced today suggest that our school leaders and teachers are making steady progress in bringing our 3rd to 8th graders up to state standards,” said Council of School Supervisors and Administrators President Ernest A. Logan. “New York City educators deserve thanks and congratulations for this progress. These scores raise hopes that, with great effort and determination, American educators will eventually help the U.S. regain the global competitive advantage it once enjoyed in science, technology, engineering and math.”

“I am pleased that New York City’s 3-8 math scores have continued to improve. Students entering the third grade in New York City Schools are now scoring comparably, if not above the statewide average,” said Senate Majority Leader Malcolm A. Smith. “This type of continued, sustained growth is a direct result of the renewed commitment that the City and the State have made to improving the public schools in this city, and across New York State.”

“I am deeply proud of what the students, teachers, principals and administrations of the public schools in my district have accomplished,” said State Senator Pedro Espada, Jr. “It is not coincidental that we have experienced dramatic improvements in test score results and the high school graduation rate, not only in the 33rd Senate district but across the five boroughs, since Mayor Bloomberg has held himself accountable for the performance of our public schools. These results clearly demonstrate why Mayor Bloomberg must continue to have oversight of our public education system.”

“We are always pleased when our children do well; it confirms what we have always known of them. We remain extremely proud of all of our students,” Assembly Member Nelson L. Castro.

Today, more New York City students are meeting or exceeding State standards in math at all grade levels. The percentage of students in grades 3 to 8 meeting or exceeding math standards rose 7.5 percentage points since last year, from 74.3 percent to 81.8 percent. The percentage has risen 24.8 points since 2006, when the State began testing grades 3 to 8. More than one-quarter of students in grades 3 to 8-25.9 percent-are exceeding standards, up from 14.9 percent in 2006. Just 3.4 percent of students scored at the lowest level on the test, down from 15.7 percent in 2006. The average score on the test for students in grades 3 to 8 rose eight points this year, from 672 to 680, meaning that the typical student in New York City is scoring 30 points above the cutoff for meeting standards.

Gains in math by New York City students have been larger than those of students in the State as a whole-both in the past year and since 2002. Across grades 3-8, New York City students have closed the gap with students in the rest of the State from 13.6 points in 2006 to 9.8 points last year to 7.1 points this year. Since 2002, the City’s fourth grade students have closed the gap with students in the rest of the State by 20.8 points, from 24.4 points in 2002 to 3.6 points in 2009. In eighth grade, City students have closed the gap by 13.6 points since 2002, from 27.2 points in 2002 to 13.6 points this year. The smallest gap with the State this year is in third grade, where it is just 2.3 points. A total of 91.4 percent of New York City third graders are meeting or exceeding math standards, the first time that percentage has reached 90 in any grade.

New York City students of all races made progress this year, but black and Hispanic students made the greatest gains, narrowing the racial and ethnic achievement gap. In eighth grade, black and Hispanic students narrowed the gap with their white peers by more than they have in any other year since 2002. The gap between black and white eighth graders fell 5.9 points since last year, more than the 4.9 points it fell in the previous six years combined-a total decline of 10.8 points since 2002. Black students scored 35.0 points below white students in 2002, 30.1 points below white students in 2008, and 24.2 points below white students this year. The gap between Hispanic and white eighth graders fell 6.6 points since last year and has fallen 15.3 points since 2002. Hispanic students scored 34.3 points below white students in 2002, 25.6 points below white students in 2008, and 19.0 points below white students this year.

In the fourth grade, the gap separating black and Hispanic students from their white peers has been more than halved since 2002, even as all students have made significant gains. The gap between black and white fourth grade students narrowed by 3.8 points since last year and has narrowed by 19.5 points since 2002. Black students scored 34.7 points below white students in 2002, 20.2 points below white students in 2008, and 14.5 points below white students this year. The gap between Hispanic and white fourth grade students narrowed by 3.5 points since last year, and has narrowed by 18.7 points since 2002. Hispanic students scored 30.5 points below white students in 2002, 15.3 points below white students in 2008, and 11.8 points below white students this year.

English language learners’ gains exceeded the gains of their English-proficient peers this year, and the percentage of English language learners meeting or exceeding math standards has nearly doubled since 2006. A total of 68.0 percent of English language learners in grades 3 through 8 met or exceeded math standards this year, compared to 58.6 percent last year and 35.8 percent in 2006. A total of 84.1 percent of English-proficient students met or exceeded standards this year, compared to 76.8 percent in 2008 and 60.4 percent in 2006.

Students with disabilities made double-digit gains this year, exceeding the gains of their general education peers. A total of 55.0 percent of special education students met or exceeded standards this year, compared to 43.4 percent last year and 24.9 percent in 2006. A total of 87.6 percent of general education students met or exceeded standards this year, compared to 80.6 percent in 2008 and 62.6 percent in 2006.

The gains among English language learners and students with disabilities were spurred by the Department of Education’s school accountability tools, which focus attention on these special populations.

Copies of the 2009 State math test results can be accessed at <> .

college plans

As Washington decides their fate, ‘Dreamers’ preparing for college are stuck in limbo

PHOTO: Joe Amon/The Denver Post
Randi Smith, a psychology teacher at Metro State University, marched to support Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals during a citywide walkout in downtown Denver, CO.

While many high schoolers spend spring of their senior year coasting through classes and waiting to hear back from colleges, undocumented students who hope to attend college spend their time calling lawyers, consulting school counselors, and scouring the internet in search of ways to pay for school without the help of federal financial aid or student loans — assuming they even get in.

That process, anxiety-provoking even in a normal year, has become incalculably more chaotic this admissions season — even traumatic — as these young undocumented immigrants watch President Trump and lawmakers wrangle over Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the program that has until now allowed them to remain in the country without having to fear deportation.

As the policy battle nears a climax, these students aren’t just breathlessly waiting to learn whether they’ll be accepted into college — they’re waiting to see whether they have a future in this country.

“It’s different for me. It’s definitely more stressful and there are times when you want to give up,” said an undocumented student at KIPP NYC College Prep High School, who is graduating this year and applying to colleges. She requested anonymity because of her legal status. “But then I remind myself that regardless of what’s going on, I’m still going to do what I’ve set myself to do.”

High school counselors are also feeling the strain. They already faced the difficult task of helping undocumented students compete for private scholarships, and finding schools that will support those students once they’re on campus. Now those counselors also must monitor each twist and turn of the immigration debate in Washington, while, somehow, trying to keep their undocumented students focused on college.

One of those counselors is John Kearney, who works at Guadalupe Centers Alta Vista High School, a charter school in Kansas City, Missouri. Dozens of his soon-to-graduate students are beneficiaries of DACA, a program created under former President Obama that allows undocumented immigrants who were brought to the country as children to avoid deportation and work here legally. Lately, they have been asking him why they should even consider college when their fate in the U.S. is so uncertain.

“The big question is, ‘Why? Why go to college, and then I can’t even work, then why?’” said Kearney, who also helped start a nonprofit that provides scholarships to undocumented students. “It’s a really tough question.”

As of Friday, President Trump and lawmakers were still locked in heated negotiations over DACA, which Trump said this fall that he would eliminate unless Congress enshrined it in law. Without an agreement, it is set to expire March 5, just as graduating seniors firm up their college plans. If that happens, young immigrants, often called Dreamers, could lose the few crucial protections they have. For many, their DACA status has already lapsed.

Even with DACA’s protections, Dreamers face massive hurdles to enroll in college: They don’t qualify for federal aid or loans, and, in some states, are barred from receiving financial aid or even attending public universities. Out of the estimated 65,000 undocumented students who graduate from high school every year, only 5-10 percent enroll in college.

Following Trump’s announcement in September, counselors have also had to race against the clock counting down to DACA’s expiration: That meant juggling college application deadlines with the October cutoff for students to apply for renewed DACA status.

The KIPP charter school network received a donation this year to help students pay for the renewal fee, which has been a godsend for many students — including the young woman who is graduating from KIPP NYC College Prep High School.

As soon as she learned the school would pay the fee for her, she immediately called her father, who is also undocumented and repairs beauty-salon equipment for a living.

“My dad was definitely trying to round up the money before the deadline, so it was a blessing that the school was able to find a donor,” she said. “I told him not to worry about it and it was a relief — like a weight off his shoulders.”

If the girl was trying to relieve her father’s stress, her college counselor, Rob Santos, was trying to do the same for her. Even as she balanced college-application essays, transcripts, and the rest, she was also coming to realize how quickly her life would change if DACA is not extended.

“There was definitely extra emotional support that I’ve had to provide this year,” Santos said. “I definitely had my DACA student in my office, and tears were happening.”

Santos keeps a running list of the colleges that accept students who don’t have permanent legal status and the few scholarships available to them. Many of those scholarships require undocumented students to have DACA status. If the program ends, it’s unclear whether students will still be eligible.

Still, Santos said his dreamer student rarely talks about the political furor surrounding her future in the U.S. as she awaits her college-acceptance letter. Instead, she’s more likely to discuss her hope of one day studying business and fashion.

“Our DACA students are resilient. They’re optimistic,” Santos said. “But they’re also realistic for what could actually happen.”

blast from the past

Harkening back to earlier era, struggling New York City school fights closure but faces long odds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Kevin Morgan, the Parent Association president at P.S./M.S. 42, is leading a fight to keep the Rockaway school open.

A decade ago, teachers picketed P.S./M.S. 42 R. Vernam in Rockaway, Queens and declared the campus unsafe. Parents said the building was in horrible shape — some areas reeked of urine — and they petitioned the education department to close the school and start over.

But when Mayor Bill de Blasio took office, he had a different idea: Rather than shut its doors, he would revamp it. After three years in de Blasio’s “Renewal” improvement program, which injects troubled schools with academic supports and social services, P.S./M.S. 42 appeared to be making progress: Its test scores and quality reviews have steadily improved. Enrollment, while lower this year, has mostly been stable.

So when the education department announced plans last month to shutter P.S./M.S. 42 and 13 other low-performing schools, many in the school community were shocked.

“We think that this is a mistake,” said Donovan Richards, the local city councilman who said that when he met with schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña shortly before the announcement, far from declaring the school a lost cause, she praised its recent strides and discussed ways to celebrate them.

“You have this glimmer of hope and turnaround in the building,” he added, “and yet we’re reversing the progress.”

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Parents used to complain about poor conditions at P.S./M.S. 42, which has since built a new addition.

Now, parents, teachers and local political leaders are vowing to fight its closure. The coalition has launched an aggressive social media campaign, printed highlighter-yellow T-shirts declaring the school “strong and united,” and planned rallies at the school and in Albany, where the school’s supporters traveled Tuesday to make their case to state lawmakers.

On a recent morning, Kevin Morgan, the school’s parent association president, went to his local congress member’s office to appeal for help, and brought in a motivational speaker to inspire students as they drafted essays in defense of their school.

“It’s not fair,” he said. “They need to rethink what they’re about to do. How is this going to affect these children?”

The fight puts the mayor in the uncomfortable position of defending the closure of a low-performing school despite signs of improvement and vocal opposition from some parents — a scenario he railed against when running to replace then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg. At the time, de Blasio blasted Bloomberg for disregarding the will of parents in his zeal to shutter and replace troubled schools without first giving them a chance to rebound.

Now, after investing $582 million in a program meant to offer bottom-ranked schools the second chance he said they had been denied, de Blasio finds himself coming to the same conclusion as his predecessor: Some underachieving schools simply can’t be resuscitated — at least not quickly enough — so better to pull the plug and start fresh.

“After a serious effort, we do not think, with their current structures, they can make it,” de Blasio said on NY1 the day the closures were announced. Still, he defended the turnaround effort, saying that, without it, “we would have continued to see closures without an honest effort to fix the problem.”

In the case of P.S./M.S. 42, the education department is proposing to replace it with two new schools — an elementary school and a middle school — in the same building.

It’s likely they will serve many of the same students as the school they’re supplanting, though some parents worry the new schools may deploy admissions criteria that will screen out some of P.S./M.S. 42’s current students. An education department spokesman said the new schools would not turn away any P.S./M.S. 42 students. The new schools may also employ many of the same teachers, under a contract rule that says at least half the positions in replacement schools must be offered to teachers at closed schools who apply and hold the right qualifications.

P.S./M.S. 42 boosters hope the new schools never have a chance to open. But they face long odds: Under de Blasio, very few schools on the chopping block have managed to escape.

Last year, the Panel for Educational Policy — an oversight board where the majority of members are appointed by the mayor — signed off on all of the city’s proposed closures. Even when parents at J.H.S 145 in the Bronx mounted a campaign to keep the middle school open, only five of the 13 panel members voted against its closure.

The city’s plan to shutter P.S./M.S. 42 follows a yearslong, grassroots effort to save it.

Today, one of the leaders of that campaign is an unlikely champion: a parent named Queen Makkada, who called for the school’s closure in 2010 when her two children went there. At one point, her daughter was attacked by a group of boys, and students were known to roam the hallways unsupervised.

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Queen Makkada says P.S./M.S. 42 has struggled in the past, but is now showing improvement.

“We literally had first graders cutting class,” Makkada said. A joint city-state report from 2011 said teachers there “demanded little” from students and parents complained about unchecked bullying among students.
Makkada says things began to turn around when the current principal, Patricia Finn, took over about seven years ago. Finn did not respond to a request for comment.

The principal smoothed over relations with teachers, who have filed far fewer grievances under her than the previous administration, according to their union. And she forged relationships with skeptical parents, Makkada said. Last year, 90 percent of parents who responded to a school survey said the principal works to build community.

“All the stakeholders had to come together and change it,” Makkada said. “These parents went through the process to improve a failing school.”

At the same time that parents were getting more involved, the school facilities were getting an upgrade. In 2011, a gleaming new addition was built onto the building, and there are plans for a new $7 million playground, according to the city councilman.

The Renewal program, which launched in 2014, marked a new wave of investment in P.S./M.S 42. A community-based nonprofit — Family Health International, which goes by FHI 360 — brought much-needed mental health supports for students, including one-on-one counseling. The school day was extended by an hour. And the school has launched several initiatives aimed at improving school culture, including training students to help resolve conflicts among their peers, parents said.

Since 2014, the school has received improved “quality review” ratings from official observers, and its test scores have ticked upwards. In fact, elementary students at P.S./M.S. 42 earned higher scores on the state English and math tests last year than the average among Renewal schools that the city is keeping open. Its middle-school students perform just below that average.

And enrollment, a key factor that chancellor Fariña says the education department considers when recommending closures, grew by dozens of students the first few years of the program. This past year, its population declined to just over 660 students — but that’s still higher than before becoming a Renewal school.

Given the progress, parents don’t understand why their school is targeted for closure.

“This is ripping everything apart,” said Morgan, the parent-association president.

But despite the recent improvements, the majority of the school’s students still are far behind where they should be.

Only 17 percent of elementary students and 14 percent of middle schoolers passed last year’s state English tests — compared with 40-41 percent of students citywide. In math, 14 percent of elementary students and 6 percent of middle schoolers passed the tests, compared with 42 percent and 33 percent citywide.

Meanwhile, a stubbornly high share of students are chronically absent, despite a major push by the city to boost attendance at Renewal schools. More than 45 percent of P.S./M.S. 42 students miss 10 percent or more of the school year, compared to 36 percent among all Renewal schools and about 26 percent among all city schools, according to the education department.

“This decision to propose a school closure was made based on a careful assessment of the school community as a whole,” Aciman, the department spokesman, said in a statement. He added that community engagement is an important part of proposed closures, and said officials will respond to parents’ questions and concerns.

Officials will hold a public hearing at the school on Jan. 10, before the Panel for Educational Policy votes Feb. 28 on whether to approve the city’s closure plans.

Among the P.S./M.S. 42 parents who will ask the panel to spare the school is Willard Price.

He said teachers have given his son, William, extra help in math and handwriting, and principal Finn has invited him to eat lunch in her office when he felt overwhelmed by the cafeteria. Now, William earns high marks on his report cards and would like to remain at P.S./M.S. 42 for middle school, his father said.

“I think that’s messed up, trying to close the school,” William said. “This school is the only school I ever liked.”