the grade divide

Inequities grew after city fixed Pearson's G&T screening errors

Pearson’s errors when grading city students’ screening tests for gifted programs did not affect all test-takers equally.

Children in districts with many white and Asian families — who make up more than 70 percent of students in gifted programs, despite being just a third of the city’s student population — were most likely to have learned that their score was higher than they had been told, according to data the Department of Education released today. The good news came much more infrequently in districts that are heavily black and Hispanic.

The department announced nearly two weeks ago that Pearson, the testing company, had botched the scores of nearly 5,000 children who were screened for gifted programs. Instead of slightly fewer children qualifying than last year, as the department initially said had happened, children had met the eligible requirements at a record rate.

Today, the department released an updated breakdown of where children qualifying for gifted programs live. The data reinforce the fact that the department’s overhaul of the screening process — which included a test that was billed as harder to game — seems to have done little to chip away at longstanding inequities in the racial makeup of students in gifted programs.

Nearly 52 percent of children screened in Manhattan’s District 3, which includes the Upper West Side, posted scores high enough to make them eligible for gifted programs. In District 2, which includes the Upper East Side and most of Manhattan below 59th Street, that proportion was 50 percent. The department had originally said 44 and 41 percent of test-takers in those districts had qualified.

In District 7 in the South Bronx, just 13 percent of test-takers qualified after the regrading. Of 189 test-takers in the district, only six more children passed the screening test than Pearson originally said.

Two districts had students deemed eligible after regrading even less often. District 16, which includes the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, and District 12 in the Bronx — long two of the city’s lowest-performing districts — had students move over the eligibility bar at the lowest rate, 2.14 percent. Heavily black and Hispanic districts generally saw their proportion of passing students increase by less than 5 percent.

Across the city, the scoring errors affected 7.5 percent of test-takers’ eligibility for gifted programs, and in districts with many middle-class families and Asian immigrants, more than 8 percent of students screened were deemed eligible after the error was fixed. In District 26 in Queens, which is packed with both populations, more than 10 percent of test-takers had been wrongly told they were not eligible.

The city standardized the admissions process for gifted programs in 2006 in an effort to increase equity in who attends them. But the city’s poorest districts have continually had the fewest students qualify under the standardized process, and several districts have routinely had too few students pass the screening test to warrant opening gifted programs.

Last week, Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the department would use $420,000 docked from Pearson because of the scoring errors to “support our schools, especially in areas where we have not been satisfied with the participation level of students of color in taking G&T [tests].”

While about the same number of Manhattan students took the gifted screening exam this year, the number of students screened in the other boroughs fell by about 10 percent, according to the department. A spokeswoman said the department would spend more in the future on recruitment and outreach with the help of community groups.

Another $80,000 docked from Pearson’s $5.5 million contract is being used to inform families about the errors and operate a hotline to answer their questions. The department released $55,000 to schools to run additional open houses for families that were newly notified that their children are eligible for gifted programs, according to a memo distributed today to principals by the department’s budget office.

Families have until May 10 to apply for gifted programs, a deadline that the department extended from April 19 after revealing Pearson’s errors late that day.

survey says

More bullying reported at New York City schools, study shows

PHOTO: Anthony Lanzilote

More New York City students say there is bullying in their schools, a report released Monday showed. The findings also revealed that many schools reporting the greatest number of violent incidents on campus have no social workers on staff.

The report was commissioned by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Stringer also released an audit of how school safety matters are recorded, and concluded that the education department should provide more oversight and streamline incident reporting rules.

“The audit found clear breakdowns in communication in the reporting and tracking of incidents and actions taken,” according to a press release from Stringer’s office.

The education department disputed some of the comptroller’s findings, and in a written statement, spokeswoman Miranda Barbot wrote: “We have detailed protocols in place to ensure allegations of bullying are immediately reported, investigated and addressed, and are investing in both anti-bullying initiatives and mental health supports.”

But the pair of reports raises scrutiny of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s school discipline reforms, which favor  “restorative” practices that emphasize mediation over punishment, and make it harder to suspend students.

Advocates of the de Blasio reforms say the shift is necessary because black and Hispanic students are more likely to be arrested or disciplined at school. Research has shown such disciplinary action can lead to higher dropout rates. Critics of the reforms, meanwhile, say the changes have created more chaotic schools.

The findings are also likely to add to a chorus of parents and elected officials who say more emotional supports are needed for the city’s most vulnerable students. Students who experience a mental health crisis during the school day may be handcuffed and shuttled to hospitals. The city’s latest budget, which was approved last week, includes an additional $2 million to hire social workers and guidance counselors in schools that currently don’t have any.

Here are some highlights from the reports.

More students report there is bullying in their schools — but the data comes with a catch.

Last year, the education department’s annual survey showed that 82 percent of students said their peers “harass, bully, or intimidate others in school.” That’s up year over year, and up significantly from 65 percent of students in 2012, which was the lowest rate recorded since at least 2010. (De Blasio’s discipline reforms started to take effect around 2015.)

A note about these numbers: Prior to 2017, the survey asked whether students harass, bully or intimidate other students none, some, most, or all of the time. The most recent survey responses were slightly different: none of the time, rarely, some of the time, or most of the time — a change that may have artificially inflated the bullying numbers.

That’s enough to render the survey data unreliable said Max Eden, a researcher who has studied school climate for the conservative-leaning Manhattan Institute — a critic of the mayor’s discipline reforms. Still, taken with other findings, it’s reasonable to think that bullying is on the rise at city schools, he said.

Among the other evidence: A first-of-its-kind report, released this month under a new city law, that showed substantiated bullying incidents are on track to increase this year.

Schools that log the most violent incidents often lack mental health supports.

Guidance counselors and social workers are key when it comes to creating safe schools because they can help address the root cause of violent or troublesome behavior, advocates who want more mental health supports say.

But many of the city’s neediest schools go without that help.

Of the schools reporting the most violent incidents on campus, 36 percent lack a full-time social worker, the comptroller found. On campuses where there are social workers, caseloads are a staggering 700 to one. That far exceeds the recommended ratio from the National Association of Social Workers of 250 general education students per social worker — and it’s higher than the citywide average of 612 students per social worker, according to the comptroller.

The comptroller’ compares that to the ratio of New York Police Department school safety agents who are placed in schools: There is one safety agent per 228 students, according to the report.

“Our city is failing to meet the social and emotional needs of our students,” Councilman Mark Treyger, of Brooklyn, who has pushed the city to report more up-to-date bullying data and to hire more school counselors, said in an emailed statement.

Schools may be underreporting violent incidents, something the education department disputes.

In a separate audit, the comptroller compared logs kept by school safety agents to incident reports filed by school leaders. In 21 percent of cases, incidents that were noted by safety agents were not reflected in the school reports.

The school data, in turn, are used to report incidents to the state for its Violent and Disruptive Incident Report, or VADIR. The discrepancy could raise questions about the already-controversial reporting system. (VADIR has been criticized for classifying schoolyard incidents as serious offenses, and the state has tweaked its definitions in response to those kinds of concerns.)

This finding also comes with some caveats. The comptroller looked at only 10 schools — a tiny sample of the city’s portfolio of about 1,800. And the education department took issue with the methodology.

In its response to the audit, education department officials said that the police data doesn’t align with the state’s reporting categories, and that the information may not be comparable because of student privacy concerns and recordkeeping issues on campuses where multiple schools share a building.  

Student Voice

Boasting impressive resumes, five Newark students compete for a school board seat

PHOTO: Newark Public Schools
Top row: Amanda Amponsah, Nailah Cornish, Andre Ferreira. Bottom row: Shalom Jimoh, Emmanuel Ogbonnaya.

Earlier this year, Newark residents elected three new members to the city’s re-empowered school board. Now, public school students can choose one of their own to join the board, which in February became the district’s governing body for the first time in more than two decades.

Students have until midnight on Tuesday, June 5, to vote online for a rising 12th-grader to represent their interests on the school board. The winning student representative will provide the board with student perspectives on district policy, but will not be permitted to vote.

Eligible candidates are required to have a minimum 3.0 grade-point average, a satisfactory disciplinary record, and to submit peer and faculty recommendations. Last week, the five candidates participated in a debate, which can be heard here.

The candidates are:

  • Amanda Amponsah, of University High School, who is class president, captain of the softball team, a member of the marching band, and an aspiring pediatric oncologist.
  • Nailah Cornish, of Barringer Academy of Arts and Humanities, who plays basketball and volleyball, runs her own modeling program, and plans to study law and business in college.
  • Andre Ferreira, of Science Park High School, who is a soccer player, debater, and vice president of the student leadership organization. He plans to major in political science and aspires to work for the United Nations.
  • Shalom Jimoh, of Weequahic High School, who immigrated from Nigeria, and is now a member of the student government council, the National Honor Society, and the track and volleyball teams. She plans to study medicine and theater arts in college.
  • Emmanuel Ogbonnaya, of Weequahic High School, who serves as school photographer, soccer team captain, and is a member of the National Honor Society. Emmanuel wants to study engineering, and then start a company that combines photography, architecture, and engineering.

The winner will join the board at an historic moment. Control of the district reverted to the city in February, when state officials determined the district had met its requirements for home rule. The district had been run by the state for 22 years prior.

Last year, more than 1,200 students  — or about 13 percent of Newark public high school students — voted for a student representative to the school board, which then functioned in an advisory capacity only. This year, a Newark student group tried to ramp up turnout with text messages and a video posted on Facebook encouraging voting.

“The student representative will work closely with administrators and board members to make sure that all student voices are heard,” according to a video produced in advance of the vote by the Youth Media Symposium at the Abbott Leadership Institute, a Newark civic-engagement group. “Now that we have local control, this is more crucial than ever.”

As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, 1,381 votes had been cast. District officials said the winner will be announced Friday, and will be introduced publicly at the board’s June 12 meeting. The representative will then be required to attend at least four board meetings and various district events during the 2018–2019 academic year.