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.

Changing course

After pressure from school board members, University of Memphis middle school drops its academic requirement

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat
University of Memphis' elementary, Campus School, is one of the highest achieving schools in the state.

Leaders of a popular elementary school known for its high academic performance are changing the entrance requirements at a proposed middle school in hopes of creating a more diverse student body.

After the Shelby County Schools board raised concerns that the University of Memphis’ plans would continue a pattern of student enrollment from its elementary school, Campus School, that is mostly white, university leaders said last week they would drop the academic requirement for the middle school.

Most Memphis students do not meet state standards for learning. Under the revised proposal, students would need satisfactory behavior records and fewer than 15 unexcused absences, tardies, or early dismissals.

In addition, the school is meant to be a learning lab for teachers earning their degrees. School leaders hope these teachers will eventually return to the Memphis school system to work with children who live in poverty. But currently, the student body doesn’t reflect the population school leaders want to serve.

“We need to make sure that new teachers are getting everything they need. That way you then can learn how to be successful in a diverse community,” board member Miska Clay Bibbs said.

White students made up two-thirds of the elementary school in 2017, the highest percentage in the district. Only 8 percent of the students lived in poverty — the lowest in the district. By comparison, more than half of students in Shelby County Schools live in poverty while only 8 percent are white.

The Memphis district has added more speciality schools in recent years to attract and retain high-achieving students, including white students, who might otherwise choose a private school or schools in the surrounding suburbs. Campus School is one that attracts a lot of white families.

It wasn’t always like that, board member Michelle Robinson McKissack said. She and other board members urged university leaders to do more intentional outreach to the surrounding neighborhood that would have priority in admissions.

“It’s surprising to me that it did seem to be more diverse when I was a child going to Campus in the mid-70s than today,” she said. “And I want to ensure that University Middle looks like Campus looked when I was going to school there.”

Until recently, Campus School was the only school with a contract in the district. Compared to charter schools, contract schools have more say in how they choose students. That allows the University of Memphis to give priority to children of faculty and staff.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat
University Middle would be housed in the former St. Anne Catholic School near Highland Street and Spottswood Avenue.

Paul Little and his wife chose their house because of its proximity to Campus School. If the university’s middle school had been open, he would have enrolled his oldest daughter there. He considered other public options, but ultimately decided on an all-girls private school.

“For a long time, I was against private schools in general because if people with high academic achievers pull their kids out of public school, you’ve left a vacuum,” he said.

Little, a White Station High School graduate, disagrees with the assertion that Campus School is not diverse, citing several international students who are children of University of Memphis faculty.

At a recent school meeting, “when I looked out over the cafeteria, I saw a lot of diversity there… That’s never been a concern for me,” he said. He said he was encouraged by the university’s outreach plans “to make the school as diverse as possible.”

Board members are expected to discuss the contract with University of Memphis on Tuesday night, vote the following week, and then open online applications to the school Jan. 30. The school would open in August with sixth-graders with plans to add one grade each year after that.

voices of the vote

Meet Denver teachers who voted yes to a strike, no to a strike — and just aren’t sure

PHOTO: PHOTO: Andy Cross/The Denver Post
Skinner Middle School math teacher Peter English walks out of the Riverside Baptist Church with his son, Landon, left, and daughter Brooke strapped to his chest after voting on whether to go on strike ()

Throughout the day, the parking lot of Riverside Baptist Church filled up as Denver teachers made their way into a meeting organized by their union, the Denver Classroom Teachers Association.  

Months of negotiations that failed to produce a deal between top leaders of Denver Public Schools and the union had given way to individual teachers facing a choice: To strike or not?

Along with reporting the news of the day — which you can read about here — Chalkbeat spent time visiting with teachers to get a sense of what was shaping their decision-making.

Most teachers we spoke with, both in depth and in passing, said they voted “yes” to strike. Union officials have said two-thirds of those who vote Saturday and in a second session Tuesday must sign off on a strike for it to proceed, and the prevailing wisdom among teachers we interviewed was that support is strong.

The decision, though, is far from black and white for many teachers, regardless of where they ultimately land.

Here are the stories of three teachers, all at different places:

Krista Skuce, Slavens K-8 school: Yes to strike

At the urging of teachers and parents, Slavens K-8 students turned out early on a few recent mornings to show support for their teachers. They wore red in solidarity and posed for pictures.

They also brought questions. “Why are you doing this?” was one.

Krista Skuce, a physical education teacher and 14-year Denver Public Schools employee, would tell students that she lives 40 minutes from the school because she can’t afford to live in Denver.

Krista Skuce

But there is more to her story. Her spouse, she said, is no longer able to work, beset by medical issues, unable to draw disability benefits, and in need of costly care including massage therapy, chiropractic appointments, neuromuscular therapies, and more.  

At the same time, Skuce said her pay “doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.” So she hustles, earning extra pay by driving across town to coach softball and basketball.

Skuce, like many teachers who stopped to talk about their votes on Saturday, believes the district can do more to boost teachers’ base pay — before bonuses and incentives.  

She said her salary has only increased $4,000 or $5,000 in the past 14 years, even though she has been teaching 27 years, has a master’s degree, and is National Board Certified.

Skuce said she knows that by voting to strike, she could very well end up taking money out of her own bank account. Striking teachers don’t get paychecks.

“I am hoping the district and the DCTA do the right thing and recognize the fact that there are some people here who are on the edge,” she said. “We are on the edge emotionally, financially. We know these are good people. And I think teachers are people who wake up every morning with forgiveness.

“You have to take a stand and say what you are for at some point in time in your life — and this is it,” she said. “I’m willing to do it, scary or not.”  

Jason Clymer, John F. Kennedy High School: No to strike

An English teacher at John F. Kennedy High School, Jason Clymer stands with his fellow union members in the belief teachers aren’t paid enough. He finds fault with what is asked of teachers through LEAP, the district’s growth and performance system for teachers.

“Teachers at my school feel extremely micromanaged and can’t catch a breath,” he said.  

But in the end, after being one of the first teachers in the door Saturday and attending an information session, Clymer said he voted against the strike.

“Going on strike is very hard,” said Clymer, whose wife works in human resources for the district’s central office. “And I think the agreement DPS came to was close enough.”

Clymer questioned picking a fight now because of the limited scope of the negotiations. That would be the current agreement governing ProComp, the pay system that provides teachers one-time bonuses for things like teaching in a high-poverty school, getting strong evaluations, having students who earn high test scores, or teaching in a high-performing school.

He said he’d like to save some political leverage to focus on other issues covered by the district’s main contract with the union.

“It’s really unfortunate these things can’t all be negotiated together,” he said. “If the district came out and said, ‘We want to give you more money, not as much as you like, but we want to devote more to things like mental health services,’ I really think that would be a winning argument.”

In opposing a strike, Clymer said that he did not want to divide his fellow teachers

“Although I voted no, I believe in the union,” he said. “And if the union voted to strike, I will absolutely support the union.”

Paula Zendle, Denver Green School: Undecided about strike

Paula Zendle is dreading the moment that is appearing increasingly likely: standing before her students at the Denver Green School and explaining why she won’t be there to teach them.

“I tell them constantly, ‘Don’t miss school, don’t miss school. Don’t be absent, don’t be absent, don’t be absent,’” said Zendle, her eyes welling up with tears as she waited on a friend. “I have been fighting to avoid a strike. I hate this. It’s utterly and totally agonizing to me.”

Paula Zendle

Zendle said she left a career in the corporate world for the classroom and has been teaching eight years. She teaches English language acquisition and Spanish at the Green School, a popular and highly-rated middle school option in a district that celebrates choice.

 Zendle said she has done her research and written to the district’s chief financial officer. What bothers her is a system she believes rewards younger teachers and underpays teachers in terms of the cost of living.  

The average Denver teacher currently earns about $51,000 in base pay and $57,000 with incentives, according to data from the state education department and the district. That’s less than teachers in districts like Boulder Valley, Cherry Creek, and Littleton.

District officials have agreed to put $20 million more into teacher compensation and defended their most recent offer on Saturday as “compelling.”

For Zendle, the prospect of facing her students — and that she works in a supportive school environment — is contributing to her struggle in deciding whether to vote “yes” to strike.

So if the moment does come, what will she tell her students?

“We have the right to protest unfair taxpayer spending,” she said. “This is not only unfair, it’s unconscionable. Their priorities have been wrong for 10 years.”

Then she paused and made clear that her decision had not been made. She considers herself a person of principle, and that will guide her in making a decision.