Top Tens

Eight top 10s from New York City’s 2016 test scores

PHOTO: Shannan Muskopf via Flickr

The percentage of New York City students passing their state English tests spiked nearly eight points this year and math pass rates also improved, giving city officials reason to celebrate. It’s worth noting, however, that the average proficiency scores on both exams still hovered below 40 percent.

In the lists below, we take a closer look at which schools are at the top or bottom of city rankings when it comes to proficiency on the two tests. We also break out which schools have seen the largest changes in performance (both positive and negative) since last year, measured by the percent change in their average scaled score.

Top city schools in English proficiency:

  1. P.S. 77 Lower Lab School (98.3 percent proficient)
  2. Success Academy Crown Heights, Brooklyn 7 (98.2)
  3. Baccalaureate School for Global Education (96.8)
  4. Success Academy Charter School – Bed-Stuy 1 (95.6)
  5. The Christa McAuliffe School/I.S. 187 (95.5)
  6. The Anderson School (95.3)
  7. Tag Young Scholars (94.1)
  8. Special Music School (94.0)
  9. Concourse Village Elementary School (93.8)
  10. New Explorations Into Science, Technology and Math High School (93.6)

Nearly all the top schools on this list have selective admissions. Four of them are citywide gifted and talented programs, while Concourse Village will start a district-wide gifted and talented program this year. Though the Success Academy network uses a lottery rather than selective admissions, the two schools listed above have English language learner populations of less than 5 percent, while ELLs comprise 14 percent of the population in non-charter schools.

Bottom city schools in English proficiency:

  1. Academy for New Americans (1.1 percent proficient)
  2. New Directions Secondary School (2.3)
  3. P.S. 174 Dumont (2.5)
  4. The School for the Urban Environment (3.3)
  5. Harbor Heights (4.2)
  6. South Bronx Early College Academy Charter School (4.5)
  7. Essence School (4.8)
  8. Red Hook Neighborhood School (4.9)
  9. Entrada Academy (5.0)
  10. M.S. 301 Paul L. Dunbar (5.1)

All the lowest-scoring schools serve high-need populations. Three — Essence, Entrada and M.S. 301 Paul L. Dunbar — are in the city’s Renewal program for struggling schools. New Directions serves overage students who are off-track in middle school, while Harbor Heights and the Academy for New Americans enroll newly arrived immigrants who may have limited prior schooling. Unlike last year, no school had a zero percent pass rate in 2016. Three of the worst-performing schools — School for the Urban Environment, Harbor Heights, and Essence — were also on last year’s list. P.S. 174 is being phased out, and Urban Environment closed at the end of this year.

Top city schools in math proficiency:

  1. Success Academy Crown Heights, Brooklyn 7 (100 percent proficient)
  2. Success Academy Fort Greene, Brooklyn 5 (100)
  3. Success Academy Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan 2 (100)
  4. Success Academy Charter School – Bed-Stuy 1 (99.5)
  5. Success Academy Charter School – Bronx 1 (99.3)
  6. Baccalaureate School for Global Education (99.1)
  7. Concourse Academy Village Elementary School (98.8)
  8. Success Academy Union Square, Manhattan 1 (98.8)
  9. Success Academy Prospect Heights, Brooklyn 6 (98.1)
  10. P.S. 172 Beacon School of Excellence (98.0)

Success Academy charter schools are known for high test scores, particularly in math, but they dominated this year’s list, taking seven out of 10 of the top slots. That’s even better than last year, when they took five out of 10.

Bottom city schools in math proficiency:

  1. Orchard Collegiate Academy (0 percent proficient)
  2. Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing Arts (0)
  3. New Directions Secondary School (0)
  4. P.S. 174 Dumont (0)
  5. Kappa IV (0.7)
  6. Brownsville Collaborative Middle School (1.1)
  7. Performance School (1.8)
  8. Lyons Community School (2.0)
  9. M.S. 328 Manhattan Middle School for Scientific Inquiry (2.3)
  10. East Fordham Academy for the Arts (2.3)

Three schools on this list were also on last year’s list of low performers — New Directions Secondary School, East Fordham Academy for the Arts and Lyons Community School, which Chalkbeat wrote about in 2014. M.S. 328 will absorb a school that shares the same building. Performance School closed this year, and P.S. 174 Dumont is being phased out.

Biggest positive change in English scale scores (not proficiency):

  1. P.S 5 Dr. Ronald McNair (+14.7%)
  2. P.S. 191 Paul Robeson (+11.6%)
  3. Fairmont Neighborhood School (+10.8%)
  4. P.S. 147 Isaac Remsen (+10.1%)
  5. The Walton Avenue School (+8.7%)
  6. Bronx Charter School for Children (+8.1%)
  7. P.S. 120 Carlos Tapia (+7.8%)
  8. P.S. 15 Patrick F. Daly (+7.5%)
  9. Academy for Young Writers (+7.2%)
  10. M.S. 596 Peace Academy (+7.0%)

Overall, schools saw bigger improvements this year compared to last. The pass rate at P.S. 5 Dr. Ronald McNair shot up from around 9 percent last year to 57.7 percent this year. But that school’s enrollment has also been falling continuously — 163 students took the test in 2013, but only 71 did this year. M.S. 596 Peace Academy, which posted a solid 7-point gain, is a Renewal school that closed at the end of the year.

Biggest negative change in English scale scores (not proficiency):

  1. Central Park East I (-7.5%)
  2. Institute for Collaborative Education (-2.8%)
  3. P.S. 73 Thomas S. Boyland (-2.5%)
  4. P.S. 230 Dr. Roland N. Patterson (-2.4%)
  5. P.S. 174 Dumont (-2.2%)
  6. P.S. 308 Clara Cardwell (-2.1%)
  7. P.S. 346 Abe Stark (-2.0%)
  8. The School for the Urban Environment (-1.8%)
  9. P.S. 167 The Parkway (-1.7%)
  10. P.S. 36 Unionport (-1.6%)

The declining performance of Central Park East 1, on both English and math scores, will no doubt fuel criticism of the school’s new principal, Monika Garg, who was appointed last summer. Some parents and staffers argue that she’s making the school less progressive and more traditional in its approach. Most of the other drops were relatively modest compared to last year. Two of the other schools on this list — P.S. 73 Thomas S. Boyland and P.S. 230 Dr. Roland N. Patterson — recently closed, and P.S. 174 Dumont is being phased out.

Biggest positive change in math scale scores (not proficiency):

  1. P.S. 5 Dr. Ronald McNair (+14.7%)
  2. M.S. 267 Math, Science & Technology (+8.9%)
  3. P.S. 191 Paul Robeson (+8.4%)
  4. Imagine Me Leadership Charter School (+8.2%)
  5. Bronx Charter School for Children (+8.0%)
  6. Staten Island Community Charter School (+7.2%)
  7. P.S. 64 Pura Belpré (+6.2%)
  8. South Bronx Charter School for International Culture and the Arts (+6.1%)
  9. P.S. 15 Patrick F. Daly (+6.0%)
  10. American Dream Charter School (+6.0%)

Once again, P.S. 5 Dr. Ronald McNair tops the list of most improved schools, despite the fact that its numbers have dwindled. In 2015, Chalkbeat wrote that test scores at some charter schools, including Imagine Me Leadership Charter School, may benefit from the departure of lower performing students, who often return to district schools in the middle of the year. Another school on this list, P.S. 64 Pura Belpré, is being phased out.

Biggest negative change in math scale scores (not proficiency):

  1. Central Park East I (-8.1%)
  2. Teachers Preparatory High School (-7.8%)
  3. New Directions Secondary School (-6.4%)
  4. P.S. 44 Marcus Garvey (-5.5%)
  5. P.S. 56 Lewis H. Latimer (-5.5%)
  6. P.S. 346 Abe Stark (-5.4%)
  7. P.S./I.S. 224 (-5.3%)
  8. Bronx Dance Academy School (-5.3%)
  9. School of the Future Brooklyn (-5.3%)
  10. Fahari Academy Charter School (-5.1%)

Central Park East I also topped the list for biggest negative change in math as the school’s principal faces pushback. P.S. 56 Lewis H. Latimer’s enrollment has been on the decline, from more than 400 in 2006 to 200 in 2016. The city moved to close Fahari Academy in 2015, but the school pushed back and remained open this year. In May, it once again seemed set to close.

Editor’s note: For the bottom four categories, we chose to look at scale scores, rather than proficiency rates, when looking for big changes this year in order to capture shifts that might not have pushed students across the threshold between levels 2 and 3, but are still notable. 

School choice

Denver judge blocks school transportation provision added to Colorado law

PHOTO: Denver Post file
Sam Boswell, 7, all bundled up in his winter clothes, splashes his way to the school bus on May 12, 2010.

A Denver judge struck down a provision of a bill related to the education of youth in foster care that would have removed barriers to transportation for all students.

The transportation provision was an amendment added by Republican lawmakers late in the 2018 session. Soon after the bill was signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper, several Colorado school districts and the associations that represent them filed a lawsuit to block it.

In a ruling issued Friday, Denver District Court Judge David Goldberg found that the amendment violated rules in the Colorado constitution that require every bill to have a clear title that explains what the bill is about and to deal only with one subject.

The bill’s title was “Improving Educational Stability for Foster Youth,” and it seeks to improve graduation rates for foster youth by requiring child welfare officials and school districts to work out transportation to the student’s home district when that’s in the child’s best interest. It also creates flexibility around graduation requirements when students do change schools. Foster youth have the lowest four-year graduation rates in the state, much lower even than homeless youth and students whose parents are migrant workers.

The tacked-on language was added in the Republican-controlled State Affairs committee five days before the end of the session. It said that a school board “may furnish transportation” to students who are enrolled in the district but who live in another district. The provision applies to all students, not just those who are in the foster system. It also struck language from an existing law that requires the consent of the school district from which students are being bused.

The amendment language came straight from a separate bill about expanding school choice that had been killed by Democrats in the House the day before.

Many school districts opposed the transportation provision because they feared it would open the door for better-off districts to poach students and undermine the meaning of school district boundaries. Advocates for school choice argued the provision was good policy that would allow more students, especially those from low-income families, take advantage of opportunities. They also argued, apparently unconvincingly, that it was required for implementation of the foster youth portions of the bill.

The Donnell-Kay Foundation intervened in the case in defense of the law. (The Donnell-Kay Foundation is a funder of Chalkbeat. You can read our ethics policy here.)

In his ruling, Goldberg said this specific issue has never been litigated in Colorado before, and he relied in part on rulings from other states with similar requirements. Bills with broad titles, he wrote, can be construed broadly and encompass a range of issues as long as they have some connection to the title. But bills with narrow titles must be construed narrowly — and this amendment didn’t make the cut.

“The subject of House Bill 18-1306 is out-of-home placed students and efforts to ensure educational stability,” Goldberg wrote, while the amendment’s subject “is all students, with no qualifiers, conditions, restrictions, or reference to out-of-home placed students. … House Bill 18-1306 seriously modifies transportation for all students and is hidden under a title relating exclusively to out-of-home placed students.”

Goldberg ruled that the amendment is “disconnected” from the rest of the bill, and neither lawmakers nor the public had enough notice about its inclusion before passage.

That leaves the rest of the foster youth bill intact and advocates for expanded school choice facing an uphill battle in a legislature in which Democrats, who are more likely to give priority to school district concerns, now control both chambers.

This isn’t an abstract issue. In 2015, more than 150 students who lived in the Pueblo 60 district but attended school in higher-performing Pueblo 70 lost access to transportation when the city-based district ordered its neighbor to stop running bus routes through its territory.

Online Shopping

Jeffco launches universal enrollment site to make school choice easy

PHOTO: Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat
Students in a social studies class at Bear Creek High School in Jeffco Public Schools read about Genghis Khan.

Starting Monday, parents in Colorado’s second-largest district will be able to shop online for schools and, once enrollment opens in January, apply to as many as they like.

The launch of Enroll Jeffco, following the path paved by Denver Public Schools, means some 86,000 students and their parents won’t have to go to individual schools during the work day and fill out paper forms if they want to apply somewhere other than their neighborhood school.

The online system cost about $600,000 to develop and operate for this school year. The district expects it to cost about half of that annually going forward.

Universal enrollment systems allow parents to compare and apply to traditional district-run schools, district schools with specialized programming or models, known in Jeffco as options schools, and charter schools with a single application on the same website. Universal enrollment systems are a key component of what some call the “portfolio model,” in which districts oversee a range of school types and parents vote with their feet. They’ve been controversial in places, especially when coupled with aggressive school accountability policies that lead to school closures.

In Jeffco Public Schools, which is more affluent than many Denver metro area districts, officials see the move to a single, online enrollment system as a valuable service for parents.

“Regardless of how people feel about it, we operate in a competitive school choice environment, both inside the district and outside the district,” Superintendent Jason Glass said. “That compels us to make thinking about that transaction, making people aware of the options and enrolling in our schools, as frictionless and easy as possible.”

Colorado law requires schools in any district to admit any student for whom they have room and for whom the district can provide adequate services, after giving priority to students who live in the district. But many districts still require paper applications at individual schools, and schools in the same district might not have the same deadlines. A recent report by the conservative education advocacy group Ready Colorado found that parents who use school choice are more likely to be white, middle- or upper-class, and English-speaking than the state’s student population. The authors argue that districts should streamline the enrollment process and consider providing transportation to make choice more accessible.

Jeffco isn’t rolling out new transportation options yet, but it might use data from the enrollment process, including a parent survey that is built into the website, to see if that’s desired or feasible. And officials believe strongly that the new online enrollment system will open up more opportunities for low-income parents and those who don’t speak English.

The website will provide information in the district’s six most commonly spoken languages and should be optimized for use on mobile phones. All parents will be required to use the system to express their preferences, including the majority of parents who want to stay in their neighborhood school, and the district is planning significant outreach and in-person technical assistance.

We believe that if all parents are participating, it improves equity,” Glass said. “One of the things we struggle with is that upwardly mobile and affluent parents tend to be the ones who take advantage of school choice. We want all of our schools to be available to all of our families. We think being able to search through and make the enrollment process as easy as possible is an equity issue.”

But critics of universal enrollment systems worry that the ease of application will encourage parents to give up on neighborhood schools rather than invest in them.

Rhiannon Wenning, a teacher at Jefferson Junior-Senior High School, said the link between charter schools and open enrollment systems makes her distrustful, even as many of her students are using the choice process to stay at the school after rising home prices pushed them into other parts of the metro area.

“I understand parents want what is best for their child, but part of that as a citizen and a community member is to make your neighborhood school the school that you want it to be,” she said, calling the universal enrollment system an attack on public schools.

Joel Newton of the Edgewater Collective, which provides community support for lower-income schools in the eastern part of the district, said Enroll Jeffco will give the district much better data on which to base decisions, but he worries that Title I schools, which serve large numbers of students from low-income families, won’t be able to compete.

“With an online system like this, it really needs to be a level playing field,” he said. “And in my area, I’d much rather have resources going to curriculum and instructional aides to catch kids up than going into marketing support. But other areas can do that and they have these big, well-funded PTAs.”

Until now, parents have had to seek out information on each school’s website. The online portal starts by asking parents to enter their address and the grade in which they’re enrolling a student. It then displays the parents’ neighborhood school, with an option to explore alternatives. Each school page has extensive information, including a short narrative, descriptions of special programs like math, arts, or expeditionary learning, the school mascot, and the racial and economic breakdown of the student population. The intent, district spokesperson Diana Wilson said, is to let schools “tell their own story.”

Parents can select as many schools as they want when enrollment opens Jan. 22, and they’ll learn in mid- to late February where they got in. However, they have to commit within five days to one school, ending a practice by which parents in the know kept their options open through the summer months. District officials say this will help them plan and budget better.

Kristen Harkness, assistant director for special education in Jeffco, served on the steering committee that developed the system, and she’s also a parent in the district. Even as a district employee who thought she knew the process inside and out, she managed to miss a deadline for her son to be considered at another middle school.

She said that choosing between schools isn’t a matter of which schools are better but which are a better fit for a particular student. In her case, her son could have stayed at a K-8 or transferred to a combined middle and high school, with each option presenting a different kind of middle school experience. He’s happy at the K-8 where he stayed, she said, but parents and students should have the chance to make those decisions.

The new universal enrollment system is poised to give more families that chance. In the course of the rollout, though, there may be a few glitches.

“We’re doing all we can to look into the future and foresee any technical problems and design solutions to that proactively,” Glass said. “That said, this is our first time, and we ask for people’s patience.”