2015 state tests

New York City scores on state tests inch up as opt-out movement triples

PHOTO: RJ Sangosti/Denver Post

New York City’s scores on state tests continued to inch up in 2015, though the number of students refusing to sit for the tests this year tripled.

Just over 35 percent of city students in grades three through eight passed the math exams, up one point over last year. In English, just over 30 percent of students passed, a two-point increase over last year that brought the city closer than ever to the state average, according to figures released Wednesday.

“For the second straight year and for the first year fully on our watch, New York City’s children have raised up their test scores in both math and English,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said.

The state also released final tallies of the number of students who opted out of the tests, after that movement saw dramatic growth over the last year. Twenty percent of eligible students statewide opted out of the tests, following waves of parent protests in many districts and the encouragement of the state teacher’s union.

In the city, the numbers were smaller. Only 1.8 percent of test-takers boycotted the math tests and 1.4 percent sat out the English tests — a tiny fraction of students, but a more than threefold increase over 2014’s percentage and a major increase over the roughly 350 students who opted out in 2013.

The city’s modest test-score gains were shared by every racial and ethnic group, though not every grade. Third, fourth, and eighth graders saw very slight declines in math scores, while all grade levels saw English scores rise. Still, fewer than one in five Hispanic and black students passed the exams, while more than half of white and Asian students did. The gaps were even wider for students who are still learning English.

[See what city schools saw the biggest gains and dips here.]

Still, the results were good news for Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Fariña. 2015 was their first full school year at the helm of the city school system, and the third year since officials adjusted the tests to align with the Common Core standards, which sent scores tumbling in 2013. Earlier this year, city officials lost their fight with state lawmakers

“My guess is that the mayor and chancellor are breathing a sigh of relief, considering the kind of siege they’re under form some media and state policymakers,” said Aaron Pallas, a professor of education and sociology at Teachers College.

The state’s proficiency rates remain higher than New York City’s, though the city has nearly closed that gap in recent years.

Across the state, 38.1 percent of test-takers met the state’s proficiency bar in math this year, up from 36.2 percent last year. In English, 31.3 percent earned a proficient score, up from 30.6 percent last year, which state officials called “modest progress.”

Officials also released detailed demographic information about the students across the state who sat out the tests. Those students were more likely to be white, from wealthier districts, and were more likely not to have passed last year’s test, according to the state education department. In New York City, 39 percent of the students who opted out of the tests did not earn a passing score in 2014, the department said.

The fact that so many of the boycotting students did not pass last year’s tests suggests that this year’s statewide results could be slanted in some way. The large number of opt-outs in the state, but relatively few in the city, could also muddy city-state comparisons.

“There is no question that when you have approximately 20 percent of students not take the tests, the results would have variation based on that,” Elia said.

The city’s charter schools continued to outdo citywide proficiency rates in math, but lag in English. Proficiency rates at charter schools increased from 28 percent to 29.3 percent in English, and from 43.9 percent to 44.2 percent in math. Those rates have improved at a slower rate than the district-school averages.

See more city-specific data here, and the statewide data here.

call out

Our readers had a lot to say in 2017. Make your voice heard in 2018.

PHOTO: Chris Hill/Whitney Achievement School
Teacher Carl Schneider walks children home in 2015 as part of the after-school walking program at Whitney Achievement Elementary School in Memphis. This photograph went viral and inspired a First Person reflection from Schneider in 2017.

Last year, some of our most popular pieces came from readers who told their stories in a series that we call First Person.

For instance, Carl Schneider wrote about the 2015 viral photograph that showed him walking his students home from school in a low-income neighborhood of Memphis. His perspective on what got lost in the shuffle continues to draw thousands of readers.

First Person is also a platform to influence policy. Recent high school graduate Anisah Karim described the pressure she felt to apply to 100 colleges in the quest for millions of dollars in scholarships. Because of her piece, the school board in Memphis is reviewing the so-called “million-dollar scholar” culture at some high schools.

Do you have a story to tell or a point to make? In 2018, we want to give an even greater voice to students, parents, teachers, administrators, advocates and others who are trying to improve public education in Tennessee. We’re looking for essays of 500 to 750 words grounded in personal experience.

Whether your piece is finished or you just have an idea to discuss, drop a line to Community Editor Caroline Bauman at cbauman@chalkbeat.org.

But first, check out these top First Person pieces from Tennesseans in 2017:

My high school told me to apply to 100 colleges — and I almost lost myself in the process

“A counselor never tried to determine what the absolute best school for me would be. I wasted a lot of time, money and resources trying to figure that out. And I almost lost myself in the process.” —Anisah Karim     

Why I’m not anxious about where my kids go to school — but do worry about the segregation that surrounds us

“In fact, it will be a good thing for my boys to learn alongside children who are different from them in many ways — that is one advantage they will have that I did not, attending parochial schools in a lily-white suburb.” —Mary Jo Cramb

I covered Tennessee’s ed beat for Chalkbeat. Here’s what I learned.

“Apathy is often cited as a major problem facing education. That’s not the case in Tennessee.” —Grace Tatter

I went viral for walking my students home from school in Memphis. Here’s what got lost in the shuffle.

“When #blacklivesmatter is a controversial statement; when our black male students have a one in three chance of facing jail time; when kids in Memphis raised in the bottom fifth of the socioeconomic bracket have a 2.6 percent chance of climbing to the top fifth — our walking students home does not fix that, either.” —Carl Schneider

I think traditional public schools are the backbone of democracy. My child attends a charter school. Let’s talk.

“It was a complicated choice to make. The dialogue around school choice in Nashville, though, doesn’t often include much nuance — or many voices of parents like me.” —Aidan Hoyal

I grew up near Charlottesville and got a misleading education about Civil War history. Students deserve better.

“In my classroom discussions, the impetus for the Civil War was resigned to a debate over the balance of power between federal and state governments. Slavery was taught as a footnote to the cause of the war.” —Laura Faith Kebede

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”


Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”


Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”


Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”


Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”


Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”