testing testing

On U.S. math test, NYC sees gradual but not short-term gains

Fourth grade students' scores were flat this year, but have increased since 2003 and 2005.

City students have made no significant improvements on a national math test in the last two years, but years of two and three-point gains have led to a general trend of modestly increasing scores.

Eighth grade students did not make meaningful gains this year. Reflecting a pattern of fourth-graders outperforming eighth graders, the older students have seen fewer score gains since 2003.

Fourth and eighth grade students’ scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, known as the nation’s report card, have been statistically flat since 2007, though both groups have made gains since 2005 and 2003.

NAEP scores are typically released on a state-by-state basis, but in 2002 several large cities agreed to have their own figures reported separately. The data does not include test scores from students in charter schools. Compared to students in other large cities, New York City’s fourth-graders beat the average score, while its eighth grade students’ scores met the average — a pattern that has held constant since 2003.

This year, a fourth-grader’s average score on the math test was 237, compared to 236 in 2007. Though there was no improvement in the last two years, there has been an 11 point increase since 2003.

The average score for an eighth-grader was 273 compared to 270 in 2007. Since 2003, the year the Bloomberg administration began to initiate changes in the city’s public schools, eighth graders have seen a 7 point increase in scores.

While the NAEP scores show no significant changes since 2007, the state’s yearly math exams tell a different story. According to state tests, between 2007 and 2009, both fourth and eighth graders in New York State saw their scores jump significant amounts.

Chancellor of the Board of Regents Merryl Tisch said the state tests measured students’ growth less accurately than NAEP, as they are more predictable and cover fewer subjects.

“I think the mayor and the chancellor have done an extraordinary job on the schools, but that doesn’t mean perfect. That means beyond anyone’s expectations,” Tisch said. “And I frankly believe that these NAEP scores reflect a misalignment between state standards and national standards that we are going to address.”

All groups of students have posted some improvements since 2003, except for white eighth graders, who have always had high scores, and Hispanic eighth graders, who lag behind other groups.

“We just have to do better with our English language learners,” said DOE spokesman David Cantor. “We knew we had to make some pretty radical changes and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”

picture-31The gap between white students’ scores and black and Hispanic students’ scores, known as the achievement gap, has not narrowed in New York City over the last six years, according to the NAEP results.

This year, white fourth-graders had an average score that was 26 points higher than black students’ scores, compared to a gap of 25 points in 2003. For Hispanic fourth-graders, the gap was 23 points in 2009 and 24 points in 2003. The same pattern continued this year for eighth grade students.

At the height of his reelection campaign, Bloomberg predicted that the NAEP scores would mirror gains made on the state tests and show that his administration was succeeding in closing the achievement gap.

“You are going to see the NAEP scores show, the federal government scores, show that New York City has made great progress,” he said during a televised debate.

Dissecting the numbers yesterday, few could agree on how “great” the progress has been.

“We have had eight years of relentless focus on test prep for the state examinations that has led to sharply rising scores on those tests. But the NAEP, the most respected test, shows that our students have actually made very small gains,” said teachers union president Michael Mulgrew in a statement.

“It’s time to admit that the DOE’s education strategy is not working,” Mulgrew said.

picture-4City officials emphasized the long-term gains.

“We usually don’t put a great deal of weight on the rise or decline over a two year period,” Cantor said. “We wait for longer terms to judge if we’re going in the the right direction or not.”

New York City’s results on the test are likely to be overshadowed by Washington D.C., which saw the greatest score increase of any participating major city.

Results from the 2009 NAEP reading test will not be available until the spring.

after douglas

Betsy DeVos avoids questions on discrimination as school safety debates reach Congress

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos prepares to testify at a House Appropriations Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing in Rayburn Building on the department's FY2019 budget on March 20, 2018. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos fielded some hostile questions on school safety and racial discrimination as she defended the Trump administration’s budget proposal in a House committee hearing on Tuesday.

The tone for the hearing was set early by ranking Democrat Rep. Rosa DeLauro, who called aspects DeVos’s prepared remarks “misleading and cynical” before the secretary had spoken. Even the Republican subcommittee chair, Rep. Tom Cole, expressed some skepticism, saying he was “concerned about the administration continuing to request cuts that Congress has rejected.”

During nearly two hours of questioning, DeVos stuck to familiar talking points and largely side-stepped the tougher queries from Democrats, even as many interrupted her.

For instance, when Rep. Barbara Lee, a Democrat from Texas, complained about proposed spending cuts and asked, “Isn’t it your job to ensure that schools aren’t executing harsher punishments for the same behavior because [students] are black or brown?” DeVos responded by saying that students of color would benefit from expanded school choice programs.

Lee responded: “You still haven’t talked about the issue in public schools as it relates to black and brown students and the high disparity rates as it relates to suspensions and expulsions. Is race a factor? Do you believe that or not?” (Recent research in Louisiana found that black students receive longer suspensions than white students involved in the same fights, though the difference was very small.)

Again, DeVos did not reply directly.

“There is no place for discrimination and there is no tolerance for discrimination, and we will continue to uphold that,” she said. “I’m very proud of the record of the Office of Civil Rights in continuing to address issues that arise to that level.”

Lee responded that the administration has proposed cuts to that office; DeVos said the reduction was modest — less than 1 percent — and that “they are able to do more with less.”

The specific policy decision that DeVos faces is the future of a directive issued in 2014 by the Obama administration designed to push school districts to reduce racial disparities in suspensions and expulsions. Conservatives and some teachers have pushed DeVos to rescind this guidance, while civil rights groups have said it is crucial for ensuring black and Hispanic students are not discriminated against.

That was a focus of another hearing in the House on Tuesday precipitated by the shooting last month at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican, falsely claimed in his opening statement that Broward County Public Schools rewrote its discipline policy based on the federal guidance — an idea that has percolated through conservative media for weeks and been promoted by other lawmakers, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Utah Sen. Mike Lee. In fact, the Broward County rules were put into place in 2013, before the Obama administration guidance was issued.

The Manhattan Institute’s Max Eden, a leading critic of Obama administration’s guidance, acknowledged in his own testimony that the Broward policy predated these rules. But he suggested that policies like Broward’s and the Obama administration’s guidance have made schools less safe.

“Faced with pressure to get the numbers down, the easiest path is to simply not address, or to not record, troubling, even violent, behavior,” he said.

Kristen Harper, a director with research group Child Trends and a former Obama administration official, disagreed. “To put it simply, neither the purpose nor the letter of the federal school discipline guidance restrict the authority of school personnel to remove a child who is threatening student safety,” she said.

There is little, if any, specific evidence linking Broward County’s policies to how Stoneman Douglas shooter Nicholas Cruz was dealt with. There’s also limited evidence about whether reducing suspensions makes schools less safe.

Eden pointed to a study in Philadelphia showing that the city’s ban on suspensions coincided with a drop in test scores and attendance in some schools. But those results are difficult to interpret because the prohibition was not fully implemented in many schools. He also cited surveys of teachers expressing concerns about safety in the classroom including in Oklahoma CityFresno, California; and Buffalo, New York.

On the other hand, a recent study found that after Chicago modestly reduced suspensions for the most severe behaviors, student test scores and attendance jumped without any decline in how safe students felt.

DeVos is now set to consider the repeal of those policies on the Trump administration’s school safety committee, which she will chair.

On Tuesday, DeVos said the committee’s first meeting would take place “within the next few weeks.” Its members will be four Cabinet secretaries: DeVos herself, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, and Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen.

on the run

‘Sex and the City’ star and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon launches bid for N.Y. governor

Cynthia Nixon on Monday announced her long-anticipated run for New York governor.

Actress and public schools advocate Cynthia Nixon announced Monday that she’s running for governor of New York, ending months of speculation and launching a campaign that will likely spotlight education.

Nixon, who starred as Miranda in the TV series “Sex and the City,” will face New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in September’s Democratic primary.

Nixon has been active in New York education circles for more than a decade. She served as a  longtime spokeswoman for the Alliance for Quality Education, a union-backed advocacy organization. Though Nixon will step down from that role, according to a campaign spokeswoman, education promises to be a centerpiece of her campaign.

In a campaign kickoff video posted to Twitter, Nixon calls herself “a proud public school graduate, and a prouder public school parent.” Nixon has three children.

“I was given chances I just don’t see for most of New York’s kids today,” she says.

Nixon’s advocacy began when her oldest child started school, which was around the same time the recession wreaked havoc on education budgets. She has slammed Gov. Cuomo for his spending on education during his two terms in office, and she has campaigned for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

In 2008, she stepped into an emotional fight on the Upper West Side over a plan to deal with overcrowding and segregation that would have impacted her daughter’s school. In a video of brief remarks during a public meeting where the plan was discussed, Nixon is shouted down as she claims the proposal would lead to a “de facto segregated” school building.

Nixon faces steep competition in her first run for office. She is up against an incumbent governor who has amassed a $30 million war chest, according to the New York Times. If elected, she would be the first woman and the first openly gay governor in the state.