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.

first steps

Superintendent León secures leadership team, navigates evolving relationship with board

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Superintendent Roger León at Tuesday's school board meeting.

As Newark’s new superintendent prepares for the coming academic year, the school board approved the final members of his leadership team Tuesday and began piecing together a roadmap to guide his work.

The board confirmed three assistant superintendents chosen by Superintendent Roger León: Jose Fuentes, the principal of First Avenue School in the North Ward; Sandra Rodriguez, a Hoboken principal who previously oversaw Newark Public Schools’ early childhood office; and Mario Santos, principal of East Side High School in the East Ward. They join three other assistant superintendents León selected for his team, along with a deputy superintendent, chief of staff, and several other officials.

The three assistant superintendents confirmed Tuesday had first come before the board in June, but at that time none of them secured enough votes to be approved. During last month’s meeting, the board assented to several of León’s leadership picks and to his decision to remove many people from the district’s central office, but it also blocked him from ousting several people.

This week, Board Chair Josephine Garcia declined to comment on the board’s reversal, and León did not respond to a request for comment.

What is clear is that the board and León are still navigating their relationship.

In February, the board regained local control of the district 22 years after the state seized control of the district due to poor performance and mismanagement. The return to local control put the board back in charge of setting district policy and hiring the superintendent, who previously answered only to the state. Still, the superintendent, not the board, is responsible for overseeing the district’s day-to-day operations.

During a board discussion Tuesday, Garcia hinted at that delicate balance of power.

“Now that we’re board members, we want to make sure that, of course, yes, we’re going to have input and implementation,” but that they don’t overstep their authority, she said.

Under state rules, the board is expected to develop district goals and policies, which the superintendent is responsible for acting on. But León — a former principal who spent the past decade serving as an assistant superintendent — has his own vision for the district, which he hopes to convince the board to support, he said in a recent interview on NJTV.

“It’s my responsibility as the new superintendent of schools to compel them to assist the district moving in the direction that I see as appropriate,” he said.

Another matter still being ironed out by the board and superintendent is communication.

León did not notify the full board before moving to force out 31 district officials and administrators, which upset some members. And he told charter school leaders in a closed-door meeting that he plans to keep intact the single enrollment system for district and charter schools — a controversial policy the board is still reviewing.

The district has yet to make a formal announcement about the staff shake-up, including the appointment of León’s new leadership team. And when the board voted on the new assistant superintendents Tuesday, it used only the appointed officials’ initials — not their full names. However, board member Leah Owens stated the officials’ full names when casting her vote.

The full names, titles and salaries of public employees are a matter of public record under state law.

Earlier, board member Yambeli Gomez had proposed improved communication as a goal for the board.

“Not only communication within the board and with the superintendent,” she said, “but also communication with the public in a way that’s more organized.”

The board spent much of Tuesday’s meeting brainstorming priorities for the district.

Members offered a grab bag of ideas, which were written on poster paper. Under the heading “student achievement,” they listed literacy, absenteeism, civics courses, vocational programs, and teacher quality, among other topics. Under other “focus areas,” members suggested classroom materials, parent involvement, and the arts.

Before the school year begins in September, León is tasked with shaping the ideas on that poster paper into specific goals and an action plan.

After the meeting, education activist Wilhelmina Holder said she hopes the board will focus its attention on a few key priorities.

“There was too much of a laundry list,” she said.

early dismissals

Top Newark school officials ousted in leadership shake-up as new superintendent prepares to take over

PHOTO: Patrick Wall
Incoming Newark Public Schools Superintendent Roger León

Several top Newark school officials were given the option Friday to resign or face termination, in what appeared to be an early move by incoming Superintendent Roger León to overhaul the district’s leadership.

The shake-up includes top officials such as the chief academic officer and the head of the district’s controversial enrollment system, as well as lower-level administrators — 31 people in total, according to documents and district employees briefed on the overhaul. Most of the officials were hired or promoted by the previous two state-appointed superintendents, Cami Anderson and Christopher Cerf, a sign that León wants to steer the district in a new direction now that it has returned to local control.

The officials were given the option to resign by Tuesday and accept buyouts or face the prospect of being fired by the school board at its meeting that evening. The buyouts offer a financial incentive to those who resign voluntarily on top of any severance included in their contracts. In exchange for accepting the buyouts, the officials must sign confidentiality agreements and waive their right to sue the district.

Earlier this week, León submitted a list of his choices to replace the ousted cabinet-level officials, which the board must approve at its Tuesday meeting. It’s not clear whether he has people lined up to fill the less-senior positions.

It’s customary for incoming superintendents to appoint new cabinet members and reorganize the district’s leadership structure, which usually entails replacing some personnel. However, many staffers were caught off guard by Friday’s dismissals since León has given little indication of how he plans to restructure the central office — and he does not officially take the reins of the district until July 1.

A district spokeswoman and the school board chair did not immediately respond to emails on Friday about the shake-up.

Some staffers speculated Friday that the buyout offers were a way for León to replace the district’s leadership without securing the school board’s approval because, unlike with terminations, the board does not need to sign off on resignations. However, it’s possible the board may have to okay any buyout payments. And it could also be the case that the buyouts were primarily intended to help shield the district from legal challenges to the dismissals.

León was not present when the staffers learned Friday afternoon that they were being let go, the employees said. Instead, the interim superintendent, Robert Gregory, and other top officials broke the news, which left some stunned personnel crying and packing their belongings into boxes. They received official separation letters by email later that day.

The people being ousted include Chief Academic Officer Brad Haggerty and Gabrielle Ramos-Solomon, who oversees enrollment. Also included are top officials in the curriculum, early childhood, and finance divisions, among others, according to a list obtained by Chalkbeat.

In addition to the 31 being pushed out, several assistant superintendents are being demoted but will remain in the district, according to the district employees.

There was concern among some officials Friday about whether the turnover would disrupt planning for the coming school year.

“I don’t know how we’re going to open smoothly with cuts this deep,” one of the employees said. “Little to no communication was provided to the teams about what these cuts mean for the many employees who remain in their roles and need leadership guidance and direction Monday morning.”