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.


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 Spokane, 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.”

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.