By the numbers

Eight top 10 lists from New York City’s 2017 state test scores

PHOTO: Shannan Muskopf via Flickr

Test scores in New York City continued their upward march this year, with small gains in average English and math scores — a cause for celebration among city officials.

Unlike last year’s scores, which came with an asterisk because of significant changes to the tests themselves, state officials said the latest round of scores show real progress. Still, most of the city’s students are still not proficient in English or math.

In the lists below, we take a closer look at which schools had the largest and smallest shares of students considered proficient on the two tests, meaning they scored 3 or 4. And we reveal which schools had the biggest positive or negative percentage changes in their scale scores over the previous year. 

These lists are no doubt affected by outside factors — such as whether a school added or dropped grades in the past year, or whether they had a high percentage of students opting out of state tests.

A note on methodology: We used percentage change in average scale scores for the bottom four lists — rather than proficiency rates — in order to capture shifts that might not have pushed students above or below the proficiency threshold, but are still noteworthy. Due to schools with tied scores, we removed numerical rankings and just provided percentages.

For a more complete look at how all schools performed on the tests, check out our new database.

Top city schools in English proficiency

  • The Academy for Excellence through the Arts (100 percent proficient)
  • Special Music School (100)
  • Success Academy Charter School – Bergen Beach (100)
  • Baccalaureate School for Global Education (99.5)
  • P.S. 77 Lower Lab School  (99.4)
  • New Explorations into Science, Technology and Math High School (97.2)
  • P.S. 172 Beacon School of Excellence (96.6)
  • P.S. 334 The Anderson School (96.2)
  • Professional Performing Arts High School (95.7)
  • Success Academy Charter School – Crown Heights 1 (95)

Most schools on this list screen students for admission. Two (NEST+m and the Anderson School) are citywide gifted schools that serve students who score in the very highest percentiles of the gifted test. P.S. 77 Lower Lab School only serves gifted students and Baccalaureate School for Global Education in Queens screens students; some of the others require auditions. It’s worth noting that the Academy for Excellence Through the Arts (which also appears on the list of top schools in math proficiency) only serves students through third grade. While the Success Academy schools admit through a lottery, the two schools on this list have two percent or fewer English language learners — compared to 13.4 percent in schools citywide.

Bottom city schools in English proficiency

  • Academy for New Americans (1.1 percent proficient)
  • New Directions Secondary School (2.4)
  • P.S. 150 Christopher (4.8)
  • Essence School (5)
  • Harbor Heights (5)
  • J.H.S 145 Arturo Toscanini (5.1)
  • P.S. 112 Bronxwood (5.5)
  • Urban Science Academy (5.8)
  • M.S. 584 – Brooklyn (7 percent)
  • Fairmont Neighborhood School (7.3)

All of these schools serve high-need populations. The Academy for New Americans and Harbor Heights are both geared toward newly arrived immigrants, who may have had limited formal schooling in their home countries. Urban Science Academy and P.S. 112 Bronxwood are part of the city’s Renewal turnaround program. So were M.S. 584, Essence School and J.H.S. 145 Arturo Toscanini, all of which closed this year.

Top city schools in math proficiency

  • The Academy for Excellence Through the Arts (100 percent proficient)
  • Special Music School (100)
  • Success Academy Charter School – Rosedale (100)
  • Success Academy Charter School – Washington Heights (100)
  • Success Academy Charter School – Crown Heights (99.3)
  • Success Academy Charter School – Hell’s Kitchen (99.3)
  • Baccalaureate School for Global Education (99.1)
  • Success Academy – Bed Stuy 1 (99)
  • P.S. 172 Beacon School of Excellence (98.8)
  • Success Academy Charter School – Bed Stuy 2 (98.7)

Success Academy took six of the top 10 spots in math proficiency, just one fewer than last year. The charter network is known for its high test scores and CEO Eva Moskowitz recently held a press conference to contrast them with the city’s at large. While Success Academy admits students through a lottery, the Special Music School in Manhattan requires an audition and the Baccalaureate School for Global Education is screened.

Bottom city schools in math proficiency

  • Digital Arts and Cinema Technology High School (0 percent)
  • M.S. 584 – Brooklyn (0 percent)
  • Wadleigh Secondary School for the Performing and Visual Arts (0 percent)
  • Lyons Community School (.7 percent)
  • New Directions Secondary School (1.2 percent)
  • Opportunity Charter School (1.7 percent)
  • The Hunts Point School (1.8 percent)
  • East Fordham Academy For the Arts (2 percent)
  • KAPPA IV (2.1 percent)
  • Brownsville Collaborative Middle School (2.4 percent)

Many of these schools serve high-need students and have a history of low scores. Six schools on this list also appeared on last year’s, including Lyons Community School, which Chalkbeat wrote about as part of a series on Mayor Bill de Blasio’s track record on education. New Directions Secondary School is for students who have fallen behind in middle school. Opportunity Charter School serves a large percentage of students with disabilities; the city has pushed to close its middle school for poor performance. The Hunts Point School is one of the city’s Renewal schools, as was M.S. 584 before it closed.

Biggest positive percentage change in English scale scores

  • P.S. 15 Roberto Clemente (5.1 percent)
  • P.S. 110 – Queens (5.1 percent)
  • Lucero Elementary School (5 percent)
  • The Boerum Hill School for International Studies (4.9)
  • Bronx Studio School for Writers and Artists (4.9)
  • School for Democracy and Leadership (4.5)
  • P.S. 92 Mary McLeod Bethune (4.5)
  • P.S. 213 New Lots (4.3)
  • Brooklyn Environmental Exploration School (4.2)
  • The 47 American Sign Language and English Lower School (4.2)

Many of the most improved schools have recently taken on curriculum changes or new approaches to discipline, according to educational plans filed with the city’s Department of Education. For example, District 1 was the recipient of a state grant to integrate schools, and that grant has been used to change instruction at Roberto Clemente to a more progressive model. Clemente, which serves largely Hispanic and poor students, is also a Renewal school. Meanwhile, School for Democracy and Leadership in Brooklyn, which has been known for suspending an outsize number of students, has turned to restorative discipline practices.

Biggest negative percentage change in English scale scores

  • Institute for Collaborative Education (-6.9 percent)
  • P.S. 5 Dr. Ronald McNair (-6.9)
  • P.S. 132 The Conselyea School (-4.8)
  • Cornerstone Academy for Social Action Middle School (-4.2)
  • Family Life Academy Charter School II (-4)
  • Success Academy – Union Square (-4)
  • Hamilton Heights School (-3.8)
  • P.S. 23 Carter G. Woodson (-3.7)
  • Eagle Academy for Young Men of Harlem (-3.7)
  • The Brooklyn New School P.S. 146 (-3.7)

P.S. 5 Dr. Ronald McNair in Brooklyn, which dropped nearly 7 percentage points, saw the biggest positive changes in English and math scale scores last year, when scores across the city spiked after dramatic changes were made to the state tests. That school and others on this list have high opt-out rates, which could have impacted their rankings.

Biggest positive percentage change in math scale scores

  • P.S. 110 – Queens (10.7 percent)
  • Frederick Douglass Academy II Secondary School (8.9)
  • P.S. 15 Roberto Clemente (7.3)
  • The Academy for Excellence Through the Arts (7.3)
  • Lucero Elementary School (7.1)
  • The Walton Avenue School (7)
  • Dr. Jacqueline Peek-Davis School (6.8)
  • P.S. 40 George W. Carver (6.3)
  • River East Elementary (6.1)
  • P.S. 30 Wilton (6)

This list contains an entirely new set of schools from last year. Several, including P.S. 110, Lucero Elementary School, and the Walton Avenue School, are fairly new and have been expanding. (Lucero and Walton Avenue share a school building.) The Walton Avenue School has taken a new approach to teaching math, with teachers who specialize exclusively in the subject.

Biggest negative percentage change in math scale scores

  • M.S. 584 – Brooklyn (-8.6 percent)
  • M.S. 35 (-6.6)
  • Citizens of the World Charter School – Crown Heights (-6.5)
  • P.S. 32 Belmont (-6.1)
  • P.S. 241 Emma L Johnston (-5.7)
  • P.S. 5 Ronald McNair (-5.6)
  • Citizens of the World Charter School – Williamsburg (-5.4)
  • Earth School (-5.4)
  • M.S. 61 Dr. Gladstone Atwell (-5.3)
  • P.S. 325 (-5.1)

The greatest decline on this list was at M.S. 584, a Renewal school that closed this year. Both of the city’s Citizens of the World Charter Schools, which opened in 2013 as part of network based in California, lost ground this year. Earth School in the East Village is another school with a high percentage of opt-outs, with a majority of students sitting out at least one of the tests.

This analysis was conducted by Chalkbeat’s Chris Hickerson, with research assistance from Chalkbeat New York.

Future of Schools

How this Indiana district realized counselors weren’t spending enough time counseling

PHOTO: Denver Post file

About a year ago, the counselors in the Beech Grove school district made a discovery: They were spending less than half of their time on counseling.

Instead of meeting with students one-on-one or in small groups, they were spending most of their days on routine tasks, such as overseeing lunch, proctoring exams, and filling in for secretaries.

When they realized how much time those other tasks were taking away from counseling work, it was “an eye-opener for everyone,” said Paige Anderson, the district college and career coordinator.

The counselors began tracking their time as part of a planning grant from the Lilly Endowment, a prominent Indianapolis-based philanthropy. In 2016, the foundation launched Comprehensive Counseling Initiative for Indiana K-12 Students, a $49 million effort to improve counseling in Indiana. Experts say meaningful counseling can help schools support students as they navigate problems both at home and in the classroom. (The Lilly Endowment also supports Chalkbeat. Learn more about our funding here.)

What Beech Grove staff members learned during their planning process is already changing their approach to counseling, said Trudi Wolfe, a counselor at Central Elementary School, who was instrumental in applying for the Lilly grants. Now, administrators are taking on more tasks like proctoring tests. And one intermediate school hired a new counselor.

“The schools will take counselors and meet the needs of the school,” Wolfe said. “Part of the process is helping administrators understand, school counselors need to be doing school counseling.”

Last month, the endowment announced its second round of implementation grants, which awarded about $12.2 million to 39 schools and districts. Beech Grove will receive $259,727 to redesign its counseling program to focus on the social and emotional needs of students, with the largest chunk of that money going to staff training.

The aim is to develop a strategy for handling the trauma that students face at home, said Wolfe. Over the past 10 years, the number of students in the district who are poor enough to get subsidized meals has risen by about 25 percentage points to 72 percent of students.

Beech Grove has also been affected by the opioid crisis, said Wolfe. “We have kids living with parents who are dependent on drugs, and they are not meeting the needs of their children.”

Those growing challenges mean that it is essential for counselors to have a plan for helping students instead of just meeting the needs of each day, Wolfe said.

Counseling is an investment that can have long-term benefits. After Colorado began an initiative to hire more school counselors, participating schools had higher graduation rates, increased enrollment in career-and-technical programs, and more students taking college-level courses. A 2016 report found that by keeping students from dropping out, the Colorado program saved taxpayers more than $319 million.

But in Indiana schools, counselors often have large caseloads. In 2014-2015, Indiana had an average of 543 students per counselor, above the national average and significantly higher than the American School Counselor Association recommendation of no more than 250 students per counselor.

Hiring more counselors alone is not enough to create stronger school counseling programs, said Tim Poynton, an associate professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston who studies counseling. They also have to spend their time on meaningful counseling work.

“You need more school counselors. That’s necessary, but it’s also not sufficient,” said Poynton. “If you hire more school counselors, and you have them doing lunch duty and things that basically you don’t need a master’s degree in school counseling to do, then you’re not going to see those important metrics move.”

When schools were applying for the Lilly Endowment grants, many reported that counselors were focused on urgent social and emotional challenges and struggled to help students plan for the future, according to the endowment.

Those challenges can have ripple effects, making it harder for school staff to tackle long-term goals such as ensuring that students sign up and meet the requirements for the state’s scholarship program, 21st Century Scholars.

If counseling is done well, most students will be prepared to go to college, even if they do not seem interested when they are in high school, Poynton said. But when counselors are dealing with urgent problems, they have significantly less time to devote to college preparation, he said.

“In urban schools, school counselors are often focused on getting students to school and meeting their immediate needs,” Poynton said. “In the higher-performing suburban schools, where the students and families don’t have those same kind of issues or concerns, the emphasis is almost entirely on the college-going process.”

In a statement from the endowment, Vice President for Education Sara B. Cobb said the response to the Lilly grants shows increased awareness of the crucial need for counseling programs.

“We are impressed with how school leaders have engaged a wide variety of community partners to assess the academic, college, career and social and emotional needs of their students, and respond to them,” Cobb said.

The Lilly grants are going to a broad array of schools, and they are using the money in different ways. At Damar Charter Academy, which educates students with special needs, few students earn traditional diplomas or have good options for higher education. That’s why school staff plan to use the $100,000 counseling grant they received to build relationships with employers and create training programs for skills such as small engine repair, automotive maintenance, landscaping, and culinary arts, said Julie Gurulé, director of student services.

“If we can commit to getting them the skills they need while they are with us,” she said, “they will be able to go out and gain meaningful employment, and … lead the kind of lives that we all want to.”

These are the districts and schools in Marion County that received counseling grants. (Find the full list here.)

  • Beech Grove City Schools $259,727
  • Damar Charter School $100,000
  • Metropolitan School District of Decatur Township $671,300
  • Purdue Polytechnic Indianapolis High School $100,000

Delayed decision

Officials promised to update a Giuliani-era agreement between the NYPD and city schools almost a year ago. So where is it?

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
A school safety agent at Staten Island's New Dorp High School.

Last October, city officials said they were on the cusp of announcing changes in the way the New York Police Department interacts with schools — an overhaul that began more than three years ago and sparked months of negotiations with advocacy groups.

But nearly 10 months later, the city has not announced any revisions to the “memorandum of understanding” that governs police involvement with school security, leaving in place a nearly two-decade-old agreement that has not been altered since Rudy Giuliani was mayor and “zero tolerance” discipline policies were in vogue.

Now, police and education officials say revisions won’t be made public until this fall. That timeline has infuriated advocates who said they made progress with senior city officials but have recently been kept in the dark and fear their recommendations are being ignored.

“Here we are three years later without any explanation from the administration,” said Kesi Foster, an organizer with Make the Road New York and the Urban Youth Collaborative who serves on a mayoral task force charged with revising the agreement. “It’s extremely frustrating and disheartening.”

As Mayor Bill de Blasio has worked to overhaul school discipline policies, which have reduced suspensions and student arrests, advocates say the outdated MOU has become a roadblock.

The 1998 agreement officially gives the city’s police department authority over school safety agents, a force that rivals Houston’s entire police department in size. The agreement was controversial at the time, with some city officials saying the presence of police officials made student misbehavior more likely to end in arrests.

Mark Cannizzaro, head of the city’s principals union who was a school administrator in the 1990s, said it was not unheard of for principals to consider calling the police for incidents as minor as shoving. “There was, at one point, a zero tolerance approach that didn’t make sense,” he said.

The current memorandum is a reflection of that era, advocates say, and is one of the reasons students of color are disproportionately likely to wind up in the criminal justice system instead of the principal’s office. It was supposed to be updated every four years, but has still never been revised.

De Blasio seemed to agree that the memorandum needed to be reformed, and convened a group of advocates and senior city officials who recommended changes. Among the group’s recommendations, released in 2016, were giving school leaders the lead role in addressing student misbehavior, making it more difficult for school safety agents to place students in handcuffs, and ensuring students are informed of their rights before they’re questioned.

Johanna Miller, the advocacy director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said senior officials — including Mark Rampersant, the education department’s director of security, and Brian Conroy, the chief of the police department’s school safety division — participated in the task force and seemed receptive to changes. The group agreed there should be limits to the type of offenses that could trigger police involvement, multiple participants said, excluding offenses such as smoking cigarettes, cutting class, and certain instances of insubordination.

But when the city presented the group with a draft agreement, many of their recommendations had vanished, according to people who were present during the meetings, some of whom requested anonymity because the city required that participants sign nondisclosure agreements.

“They basically eliminated all of the major changes that we made,” Miller said, adding that the group requested another opportunity to change the agreement more than a year ago. “And that was the last we heard of it.”

City officials would not comment on why the process has been delayed or why key recommendations never made it into the draft agreement. Some task force members said they believed education and police department lawyers, who had not participated in the group’s discussions, played a role in stripping the draft agreement of the most important changes.

An education department spokeswoman acknowledged in an email that “agency lawyers have been involved in order to ensure the MOU is aligned with existing local, state, and federal laws and in the best interest of students and families,” but did not comment further on why certain changes were not included.

Asked why task force members were required to sign nondisclosure agreements, the official said the decision was made “To protect the confidentiality of any shared student data and remain within (The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act) compliance.”

The task force still meets quarterly, although several of its members say they have not received updates and did not know the city planned to release an updated memorandum this fall.

“The DOE and NYPD have been working in close partnership to finalize updates to the MOU and ensure that the changes are done correctly in the best interest of students and families,” education department spokeswoman Miranda Barbot wrote in an email.

Cannizzaro, the principals union chief, said he has not been informed about potential changes to the agreement, adding that school leaders should have discretion in how misconduct is handled and noted the police play an important role in school safety. “We certainly appreciate their presence — we need their presence,” he said.

Some members of the task force wondered whether the selection of a new schools chief has delayed the process, and at their most recent meeting in May, schools Chancellor Richard Carranza stopped by. “He said something to the extent of, he knew it was an issue and was going to put eyes on it,” said Nancy Ginsburg, a lawyer at the Legal Aid Society and a member of the task force.

Ginsburg said she appreciates that changes take time, but also stressed that the current memorandum can make it difficult to hold officials accountable since the agreement is so vague.

“It’s impossible to hold the agencies to anything if there are no rules,” she said.