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.

Overhaul Efforts

The entire staffs at two troubled New York City high schools must reapply for their jobs

Mayor Bill de Blasio spoke in 2015 with Automotive High School Principal Caterina Lafergola, who later left the school. Automotive is one of eight schools where teachers have had to reapply for their jobs in recent years.Now, teachers at two more schools will have to do the same. (Ed Reed/Mayoral Photography Office)

In a bid to jumpstart stalled turnaround efforts, the entire staffs at two troubled high schools will have to reapply for their jobs — an aggressive intervention that in the past has resulted in major staff shake-ups.

The teachers, guidance counselors, social workers and paraprofessionals at Flushing High School in Queens and DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx will have to re-interview for their positions beginning next spring, education department officials said Thursday, the same day that staffers learned of the plan. Meanwhile, Flushing Principal Tyee Chin, who has clashed bitterly with teachers there, has been ousted; his replacement will take over Friday, officials said. (DeWitt Clinton’s principal will stay on.)

Both schools are part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s signature “Renewal” program for low-performing schools, but have struggled to hit their improvement targets. They are also under state pressure to make significant gains or face consequences, leading to speculation that the rehiring is meant partly to buy the city more time before the state intervenes. (Last year, Flushing was the only school out of two-dozen on a state list of low-achieving city schools not to meet its turnaround goals.)

“Having a strong leader and the right team of teachers is essential to a successful school,” Chancellor Carmen Fariña said in a statement, “and this re-staffing process is the necessary next step in the work to turnaround these schools.”

The staffing change stems from an agreement between the de Blasio administration and the city teachers union, who have agreed to the same process for eight other schools since 2014. Among the six schools that went through the process last year, nearly half of the staff members left — either because they were not rehired or they chose not to reapply.

As part of the deal, hiring decisions will be made by committees at each school comprised of the principals and an equal number of union and city appointees. Unlike when former Mayor Michael Bloomberg attempted to overhaul bottom-ranked schools by replacing their principals and at least half of their teachers, these committees can choose to hire as many or as few of the current teachers as they choose.

In the past, the city has placed teachers who were not retained through the rehiring process in other schools — a move that drew criticism for overriding principals’ authority to choose their own staffs. City officials would not provide details about the arrangement for Flushing or Clinton other than to say that the education department would help teachers who left the schools find new placements.

The education department “will work with each teacher to ensure they have a year-long position at a school next year,” spokesman Michael Aciman said in an email.

Both high schools have already endured a destabilizing amount of turnover: Since 2013, more than half the teachers at both schools have left, according to the teachers union. And Flushing’s incoming principal, Ignazio Accardi, an official in the department’s Renewal office, is the sixth in six years.

The school’s outgoing principal, Tyee Chin, had a brief and troubled tenure.

Last year — his first on the job — he wrote a letter to his staff describing a toxic environment that he called “the Hunger Games for principals,” where he said some teachers keep up a “war cry” for a new leader. Meanwhile, the teachers union lodged a discrimination complaint against Chin with a state board, alleging that he threatened to press “racism and harassment” charges against the school’s union representative simply for carrying out her duties, said United Federation of Teachers Vice President of High Schools Janella Hinds.

“Principal Chin came in with an attitude that wasn’t collaborative or supportive,” Hinds said. “We’re dealing with a school community that has had a long list of principals who were not collaborative.”

Chin’s departure comes after DeWitt Clinton’s previous principal, Santiago Taveras, who also sparred with teachers, was removed last year after city investigators found he had changed student grades. He was replaced by Pierre Orbe, who will remain in his position.

The education department will host recruitment events during the spring and summer to bring in teacher applicants, who will be screened by the schools’ staffing committees, officials said.

However, it may be difficult to find seasoned teachers willing to take on such tough assignments.

When the teachers at Brooklyn’s long-struggling Automotive High School were forced to reapply for their jobs in 2015, the majority left. Many of their replacements were rookies, said then-principal Caterina Lafergola.

“Many of the schools that are going through the rehiring have a stigma attached to them,” she said last year. “It’s very hard to recruit strong candidates.”

Not long after, Lafergola left the school, too.

Future of Schools

For Indianapolis principals hoping to improve, one program says practice makes perfect

PHOTO: Shaina Cavazos
A kindergarten student reaches for crayons during a lesson at Global Prep Academy.

Mariama Carson has spent 20 years as an educator, first as a teacher and now as principal of Global Prep Academy. But in all that time, she never found training that prepared her as well as what she learned over two weeks last summer.

Carson, along with 23 other Indianapolis school leaders, was chosen to be a fellow in a principal training program through the Relay Graduate School of Education. Almost immediately, she noticed a big difference from previous coaching she’d had: They practiced everything.

How do you teach kids the right way to walk in the hallway? They practiced it. How do you let a teacher know she’s struggling? They practiced it. What are the precise words to use in an evaluation? More practice.

“The commitment to practice is what has been so different,” Carson said. “Whatever we learn in Relay … it’s not just something someone has told you about. You’ve practiced it. You’ve lived it.”

Relay, a six-year-old New York-based organization, was founded by a cadre of leaders from high-performing charter school networks. Practice, role-playing and applied learning are at the center of their work with educators, which for five years has included a year-long principal fellowship.

In the 2016-17 school year, Relay trained about 400 school leaders in the United States. Fellows from Indianapolis were chosen and sponsored by The Mind Trust, an Indianapolis-based nonprofit. Joe White, who directs The Mind Trust’s school support initiatives, said he was happy with the response during the last round of applications. The next cohort, whose members will be announced this month, will be larger and contain more Indianapolis Public School educators, as well as charter school principals, he said.

The Mind Trust wants to make the training “available to as many new operators as possible to continue expanding this work across the city,” White said. “We think that this is the way that we create sustainable schools that will provide high-quality results and outcomes for kids for a very long time.”

Two principals in the midst of the program told Chalkbeat that the fellowship is already changing the culture and efficiency of their schools. The principals spent the fellowship’s two-week summer training session in Denver learning how to best collect and analyze student data, give feedback to teachers and create a school building that runs smoothly.

“The practice and critical feedback we got was unlike anything I’d ever experienced,” said Mariama Carson, a principal at Global Prep Academy, which is housed in the IPS Riverside 44 building. “Usually as a principal, you don’t get that kind of feedback.”

But Relay, which also has teacher training programs, has its share of critics. Kenneth Zeichner, a researcher and professor at the University of Washington, analyzed non-university-affiliated teacher training programs, including Relay’s. Although he hasn’t looked into the principal program specifically, he said he is troubled that the teacher training curriculum emphasizes using test scores to gauge results at the expense of a more well-rounded assessment of students, who many times are coming from families living in poverty.

He also worries Relay as a whole is too focused on fast growth, rather than on proving its methods work. There have been no independent studies done on whether Relay produces better teachers than other alternative or university programs, Zeichner said, although one is underway.

“My concern about Relay is not that they exist,” Zeichner said. “If you’re going to measure the quality of a teacher education program — of any program — the independent vetting, or review, of claims about evidence (is) a baseline minimum condition.”

Chalkbeat spoke with Carson and Bakari Posey, principal at IPS School 43. The two just completed their second of several training sessions, which will continue through the rest of the school year.

Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.

What made you want to be part of the fellowship?

Carson: The job of a principal is so lonely. To have the opportunity to work with high-quality, hard-working principals across the country is always inviting.

Posey: I wanted to make sure that I was able to appropriately and efficiently and effectively develop the people on our team. That’s what really drew me in. It’s shaped my thinking and sharpened my lens as a leader and what I’m looking for in classrooms.

What have you learned so far that you’re implementing in your school?

Carson: It’s been transformative in how our building is run just on the cultural side. Relay has really helped us understand that especially with adult learners, you have to start with the “why.” And then we model, and the teachers (in my school) play the position as students. We go into full acting mode, and then the teachers execute that practice. For two weeks before the kids even showed up, that’s what our teachers were doing. Normally, I’d hand my teachers a packet of procedures and expectations, but we never practiced.

Posey: We’ve started to implement already … around coaching teachers — how we give that feedback and give teachers bite-sized action steps to work on instead of making a list of 12 things to do at once. If you do one thing better every single day, then you get better overall. Something else that’s big for me is student work exemplars — actually having an example of excellence for student work that the teacher creates and uses to guide feedback. Overall it’s just kind of helped to organize my thinking as a school leader and really kind of give you a little bit of a road map towards student growth and overall school success. It’s the best professional development I’ve ever been a part of.

How have teachers back in your schools responded to the changes you have introduced, including suggestions on improving instruction, evaluations, etc.?

Carson: Teachers have been responding well, and they’re getting used to this culture, a culture of practice. Even in our feedback sessions where we’re coaching teachers, it’s “OK, execute the lesson — I’ll be the student, you be the teacher.”

Posey: They’ve been receptive. It’s not coming from a place of “gotcha” or I’m trying to make you look really bad. It’s really coming from a place of really getting better for our students to really give them the best, which is what they deserve.