From 2014: City scores on state tests jump slightly as schools adjust to Common Core

New York City’s recovery from a testing reality check got off to a promising start in 2014.

One year after scores plummeted following the state’s adoption of Common Core-aligned tests, city students collectively outpaced the rest of New York on both the math and English exams. In math, 34.2 percent of city students passed the exams, up 4.6 points from last year. In English, 28.4 percent of students passed, a one-point gain, according to city figures.

The city’s gains meant it shrank the gap between its English scores and the state’s to the slimmest margin since 2006. Statewide, 35.8 percent of students were considered proficient in math this year, and 31.4 percent of students considered proficient in English. But achievement gaps among city students remain wide.

“It’s a story of modest but real progress,” Board of Regents Chancellor Meryl Tisch said.

The numbers still show that the vast majority of New York’s students are not at their grade level in reading, writing, and math. But they also show that more struggling students were making progress out of the lowest category.

On a conference call with reporters, state education officials emphasized that they now believed the scores were an authentic indication of student academic proficiency. Test scores were widely seen as grossly inflated in 2009, when city proficiency rates reached 82 percent in math and 69 percent in English.

Commissioner John King attributed the city’s overall progress to its early implementation of the Common Core standards, citing the Common Core fellows program and strong professional development.

They started early on the Common Core,” King said. “I think that’s a factor.”

City students in all racial and ethnic groups did better on this year’s tests than last year, and state officials also said that indicated a narrowing achievement gap. But the numbers show that scores of white and Asian students improved more than those of their black and Hispanic peers — meaning that for the second straight year, the so-called achievement gap actually widened in most categories.

For instance, the math-proficiency gap between the city’s white and black students jumped by more than two points to 37.2 points this year. In English, it jumped 30.5 to 31.3 points. The gaps in both subjects also widened between white and Hispanic students, from 31.5 points to 32.7 points in math and 30.2 points to 31.7 points in English, as well as between Asian students and all other groups.

Success Academy, which puts an enormous emphasis on preparing its students to take the state tests, quickly released its overall performance, showing its students’ outperformed the rest of the city by a wide margin. In math, 94 percent of its students passed the math exam, while 64 percent passed the English exam.

State officials estimated that at least 105,000 students didn’t take at least one of this year’s exams. King said that about half of those were eighth graders who were allowed to skip the math exam because they were taking a high school-level Regents as a replacement. He said that between 55,000 and 60,000 additional students did not take this year’s exam, which a spokesperson said was up from as few as 10,000 students last year. The spike is likely attributed to a parent-led movement to opt their children out of taking the exams in protest of the state’s testing policies.

City student math proficiency rates | Create Infographics

City student ELA proficiency rates | Create Infographics


Here is the state’s full report:

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.