testing testing

Science scores suffer in city, especially for older students

More than 60 percent of New York eighth graders scored below basic level on the 2009 NAEP science tests.

New York City fourth graders did about as poorly on a national science test in 2009 as those in other large American cities, but the city’s eighth graders lag behind their peers.

More than 60 percent of city eighth graders scored below basic on the National Assessment of Educational Progress science exams. Nationally, 38 percent of students scored below the basic level, and 56 percent of students in large city school districts did not meet that bar.

The city’s fourth graders fared better. Still, 44 percent scored below basic on the science tests. In other large cities, roughly the same percentage of students didn’t score above the “basic” bar.

The Department of Education’s Chief Academic Officer, Shael Polakow-Suransky, said that the city was focusing on introducing national “Common Core” standards into classrooms as a strategy to boost achievement in science. The standards include a focus on reading and writing non-fiction and technical texts in subjects like science.

“The gap between how our students perform in elementary and middle school is a real concern, which is why it’s crucial that we continue working toward the tougher Common Core Standards as quickly as possible,” Polakow-Suransky said. “That gap can be closed if we build literacy skills in science, as these new standards do, and prepare our kids for the critical thinking and problem solving they begin to face in middle school.”

A sampling of fourth, eighth and twelfth graders around the country take the NAEP exams every two years. NAEP scores are usually reported by state, but in 2002 several large cities including New York agreed to have their own figures reported separately.

Of the 17 city school districts whose results were reported today, New York City ranked seventh in fourth grade test results and eighth in eighth grade scores. Austin, Charlotte, Jefferson County, Ky., Miami-Dade, San Diego and Boston all bested New York City in both grade levels. On the eighth grade exams, Houston also performed better than New York.

Overall, New York City’s fourth-grade science scores were lower than the national average. But when the scores are broken down by ethnicity and poverty level, each of New York’s subgroups performed about the same on average as their peers nationally. (So for example, black fourth graders in New York City performed about the same as the national average for black students in that grade.)

The city’s eighth graders, by contrast, received lower scores than their peers nationally across all demographics except Asian students.

The results also indicate that fewer city students are doing well in science than in reading and math. More than 60 percent of the city’s eighth graders scored either basic, proficient or advanced in both reading and math in 2009.

The same was true across all of the large urban districts on average. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called on cities to improve their science education.

“The results released today show that students in our cities are further behind in science than in reading and mathematics,” Duncan said in a statement. “With 44 percent of fourth graders and 56 percent of eighth graders scoring below NAEP’s basic level, these results show that large city districts aren’t preparing enough students to succeed in the knowledge economy.”

In 2009, the science exams were overhauled, which means that the new results cannot be compared to previous years’ to track progress, the exam’s administrators said.

The new science exams cover three content areas: physical, life, and earth and space sciences. Unlike earlier NAEP exams, questions “crosscut” the subjects so that a question about one content area also relies on knowledge from one or both of the others.

Betsy DeVos

To promote virtual schools, Betsy DeVos cites a graduate who’s far from the norm

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos spoke to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools in June.

If Betsy Devos is paying any attention to unfolding critiques of virtual charter schools, she didn’t let it show last week when she spoke to free-market policy advocates in Bellevue, Washington.

Just days after Politico published a scathing story about virtual charters’ track record in Pennsylvania, DeVos, the U.S. education secretary, was touting their successes at the Washington Policy Center’s annual dinner.

DeVos’s speech was largely identical in its main points to one she gave at Harvard University last month. But she customized the stories of students who struggled in traditional schools with local examples, and in doing so provided an especially clear example of why she believes in virtual schools.

From the speech:

I also think of Sandeep Thomas. Sandeep grew up impoverished in Bangalore, India and experienced terrible trauma in his youth. He was adopted by a loving couple from New Jersey, but continued to suffer from the unspeakable horrors he witnessed in his early years. He was not able to focus in school, and it took him hours to complete even the simplest assignment.

This changed when his family moved to Washington, where Sandeep was able to enroll in a virtual public school. This option gave him the flexibility to learn in the quiet of his own home and pursue his learning at a pace that was right for him. He ended up graduating high school with a 3.7 GPA, along with having earned well over a year of college credit. Today, he’s working in finance and he is a vocal advocate for expanding options that allow students like him a chance to succeed.

But Thomas — who spoke at a conference of a group DeVos used to chair, Advocates for Children, in 2013 as part of ongoing work lobbying for virtual charters — is hardly representative of online school students.

In Pennsylvania, Politico reported last week, 30,000 students are enrolled in virtual charters with an average 48 percent graduation rate. In Indiana, an online charter school that had gotten a stunning six straight F grades from the state — one of just three schools in that positionis closing. And an Education Week investigation into Colorado’s largest virtual charter school found that not even a quarter of the 4,000 students even log on to do work every day.

The fact that in many states with online charters, large numbers of often needy students have enrolled without advancing has not held DeVos back from supporting the model. (A 2015 study found that students who enrolled in virtual charters in Michigan, Illinois, and Wisconsin did just as well as similar students who stayed in brick-and-mortar schools.) In fact, she appeared to ignore their track records during the confirmation process in January, citing graduation rates provided by a leading charter operator that were far higher — nearly 40 points in one case — than the rates recorded by the schools’ states.

She has long backed the schools, and her former organization has close ties to major virtual school operators, including K12, the one that generated the inflated graduation numbers. In her first week as education secretary, DeVos said, “I expect there will be more virtual schools.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the location of the dinner.

expansion plans

Here are the next districts where New York City will start offering preschool for 3-year-olds

PHOTO: Christina Veiga
Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, left, and Mayor Bill de Blasio, center, visited a "Mommy and Me" class in District 27 in Queens, where the city is set to expand 3-K For All.

New York City officials on Tuesday announced which school districts are next in line for free pre-K for 3-year-olds, identifying East Harlem and the eastern neighborhoods of Queens for expansion of the program.

Building on its popular universal pre-K program for 4-year-olds, the city this year began serving even younger students with “3-K For All” in two high-needs school districts. Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he wants to make 3-K available to every family who wants it by 2021.

“Our education system all over the country had it backwards for too long,” de Blasio said at a press conference. “We are recognizing we have to reach kids younger and more deeply if we’re going to be able to give them the foundation they need.”

But making preschool available to all of the city’s 3-year-olds will require an infusion of $700 million from the state or federal governments. In the meantime, de Blasio said the city can afford to expand to eight districts, at a cost of $180 million of city money a year.

Funding isn’t the only obstacle the city faces to make 3-K available universally. De Blasio warned that finding the room for an estimated 60,000 students will be a challenge. Space constraints were a major factor in picking the next districts for expansion, he said.

“I have to tell you, this will take a lot of work,” he said, calling it “even harder” than the breakneck rollout of pre-K for all 4-year-olds. “We’re building something brand new.”

De Blasio, a Democrat who is running for re-election in November, has made expansion of early childhood education a cornerstone of his administration. The city kicked off its efforts this September in District 7 in the South Bronx, and District 23 in Brownsville, Brooklyn. More than 2,000 families applied for those seats, and 84 percent of those living in the pilot districts got an offer for enrollment, according to city figures.

According to the timeline released Thursday, the rollout will continue next school year in District 4 in Manhattan, which includes East Harlem; and District 27 in Queens, which includes Broad Channel, Howard Beach, Ozone Park and Rockaways.

By the 2019 – 2020 school year, the city plans to launch 3-K in the Bronx’s District 9, which includes the Grand Concourse, Highbridge and Morrisania neighborhoods; and District 31, which spans all of Staten Island.

The 2020 – 2021 school year would see the addition of District 19 in Brooklyn, which includes East New York; and District 29 in Queens, which includes Cambria Heights, Hollis, Laurelton, Queens Village, Springfield Gardens and St. Albans.

With all those districts up and running, the city expects to serve 15,000 students.

Admission to the city’s pre-K programs is determined by lottery. Families don’t have to live in the district where 3-K is being offered to apply for a seat, though preference will be given to students who do. With every expansion, the city expects it will take two years for each district to have enough seats for every district family who wants one.