There's an AP for that

More New York City students are taking AP exams, though racial gaps persist

Students take an AP exam at Bronx Science, one of the city's specialized high schools.

More New York City students than ever are taking and passing Advanced Placement exams, according to statistics released Tuesday by the education department, which added new AP classes at dozens of schools last year as part Mayor Bill de Blasio’s push to make advanced courses available to more students.

The number of students who took at least one AP test in 2017 increased by 4,458 students citywide — a 10 percent increase over the previous year. Just over 1,800 additional students passed at least one AP exam, a 7.5 percent increase. In all, about one-third of the most recent graduating class took an AP exam, with 18 percent passing at least one of them.

“For too long, our students’ access to AP courses has been dictated by their zip code,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. “We are making the investments to right that wrong, and to ensure that every kid has access to the challenging courses they need to be ready for college and careers.”

While white and Asian students are still more likely to take AP exams, test-taking increased among all racial groups this year. However, even as more black and Hispanic students took the exams, the proportion of those who passed actually shrank — widening the pass-rate gap between them and their white and Asian peers.

The number of Hispanic students who took at least one AP exam in 2017 increased by 13.2 percent — more than any other racial or ethnic group. But the proportion of those students who passed at least one exam decreased nearly 4 percentage points from 47.2 to 43.5 percent. Participation among black students grew by 9 percent, but their pass rate dipped slightly from 27.8 to 27.1 percent.

White and Asian students, by contrast, saw both participation and pass rates increase. Roughly 66 percent of white test takers passed at least one exam, while 67 percent of Asian students did — a small increase for both groups.

The education department acknowledged some of those racial disparities in its press release, noting that “the city is moving to address these inequities with the Equity and Excellence for All agenda, including AP for All and Computer Science for All.”

An education department spokesman also pointed out that the overall number of black and Hispanic students taking and passing the exams has gone up.

“This is significant progress, and we hope to build on both the performance and participation increases going forward,” said spokesman Will Mantell.

While more students were beginning to take and pass AP exams before de Blasio’s tenure, he has made greater access to advanced courses a signature part of his education agenda. In 2015, he announced “AP for All,” a program designed to boost the number of AP classes in schools — especially those with low-income students of color who remain less likely to take advanced courses.

A 2015 report by the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School found that more than half the city’s high schools did not offer a single AP course in math and about half did not offer an AP course in science. Currently, about 400 of the city’s roughly 500 high schools offer at least one AP class, according to the city’s education department, an increase of roughly 30 schools over the past year.

As part of AP for All, the city set a goal of that 75 percent of students will be offered at least five AP classes by fall 2018, with all students covered by 2021. As of last school year, 58 percent of high school students had access to at least five AP courses, officials said.

De Blasio has also pushed for more computer science courses, promising all schools citywide will have at least one offering by 2025. The number of students taking an AP computer science exam more than doubled to 3,966 students this year, officials said. Some 71 percent of those students passed — a 13-point increase over last year.

awards season

For the first time in two decades, New York’s Teacher of the Year hails from New York City — and West Africa

PHOTO: New York State Education Department
Bronx International High School teacher Alhassan Susso, center, is New York State's 2019 Teacher of the Year.

An immigrant from West Africa who teaches social studies to immigrant students in the Bronx is New York State’s newest Teacher of the Year.

Alhassan Susso, who works at International Community High School in Mott Haven, received the award Tuesday, becoming the first New York City teacher to do so since 1998.

As the state’s Teacher of the Year, Susso will travel the state to work with local educators — and will represent New York in the national competition at a time when federal authorities are aggressively seeking to limit immigration.

A decorated teacher with significant vision impairment since childhood, Susso came to New York from Gambia at 16 and had a rocky experience at his upstate high school, which he chronicled in an autobiography he published in 2016. Assuming that he would struggle academically because he was an immigrant, even though English is the official language of Gambia, his teachers assigned him to a remedial reading class. There, he found a compassionate teacher who was attentive to the diverse needs of her students, who came from all over the world.

Now, Susso is playing that role at his school. International Community High School, part of the Internationals Network for new immigrants, has a special program for students who did not receive a formal education before coming to the United States.

“Alhassan Susso exemplifies the dedication and passion of our 79,000 New York City teachers,” city Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said in a statement. “Using the obstacles he’s overcome and lessons he’s learned in his own life, Alhassan has changed the trajectory of students’ lives and helped them pursue their dreams.”

New York City teachers make up nearly 40 percent of the state’s teaching force but have won the Teacher of the Year honor only six times since 1965, the last in 1998. This year’s winner had a strong chance of ending the two-decade shutout: Two of the three finalists teach in the Bronx. In addition to Susso, Frederick Douglass Academy III chemistry teacher William Green was up for the award.

regents roundup

Regents support a new way of evaluating charter schools and soften penalties for schools with high opt-out rates

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Chancellor Betty Rosa, center, at a recent Board of Regents meeting.

New York’s top education policymakers tentatively approved new rules Monday on two hot-button issues: the penalties for districts and schools where many students opt out of state tests — and how nearly 100 charter schools across the state will be evaluated.

Here’s what you need to know about the new policies that the state’s Board of Regents set in motion.

Potential penalties for high opt-out rates were softened

After criticism from activists and parents within the opt-out movement and pushback from the state teachers union, the Regents walked back some of the consequences schools and districts can face when students refuse to take state exams.

Among the most significant changes, which state officials first floated last week, is that districts with high opt-out rates will not be required to use a portion of their federal funding to increase their testing rates.

“I do not ever want to be the person who takes money away from children,” State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said.

The regulations are part of the state’s plan under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act and stem from a federal mandate that 95 percent of students take the state’s annual reading and math exams.

The Regents tweaked other rules requiring schools to create improvement plans if they fall below the 95 percent threshold. Schools with average or higher test scores will not have to come up with those plans.

Still, some parents who support the opt-out movement and who attended Monday’s meeting said the changes don’t go far enough and that schools with lower test scores should also be exempt from coming up with plans to boost participation rates.

“There’s still so much left to be addressed,” said Kemala Karmen, a New York City public school parent who attended the meeting.

The new regulations will likely not have a major effect in New York City, where opt-out rates have remained relatively low. Although New York State has been the epicenter of the test-boycott movement — with roughly one in five students refusing to take the tests, according to the most recent data — less than 4 percent of the city’s students declined to take them.

The Regents unanimously approved the changes, although their vote is technically preliminary. The tweaks will still be subject to a 30-day public comment period and will likely be brought to a final vote in December.

New criteria for evaluating charter schools

The Regents also narrowly approved a new framework for evaluating the roughly 100 charter schools that the board oversees across the state, 63 of which are in New York City.

The new framework is meant to bring charter schools in line with how the state judges district-run schools. Under the new federal education law, the Regents have moved away from emphasizing test scores as the key indicator of a school’s success.

In keeping with that shift, the new charter framework will require schools to have policies covering chronic absenteeism, out-of-school suspension rates, and other measures of school culture to help decide whether they are successful enough to remain open.

And while the new framework does not spell out specific rates of chronic absenteeism a school must fall below, for example, it does explicitly add those policies to the mix of factors the Regents consider. (Officials said that test scores and graduation rates would still remain among the most important factors in evaluating charter schools.)

At Monday’s meeting, discussion of the charter framework prompted broad complaints about the charter sector from some Regents. The state’s framework for evaluating charters was last updated in 2015; the board has added several new members and a new chancellor since then.

The current board has repeatedly sent mixed messages about the sector, approving large batches of new charters while also rejecting others and raising questions about whether the schools serve a fair share of high-need students.

“We’re giving money away from our public schools to charters,” Regent Kathy Cashin said, emphasizing that she believes the state should more deeply probe when students leave charter schools and survey families to find out why.

Charters receive some freedom from rules governing most district-run schools, but in exchange the schools are expected to meet certain performance benchmarks or else face closure.

State officials said the new framework does not include new standards for how New York judges enrollment and retention. Under the current rules, schools must enroll a similar number of students with disabilities, English learners, and low-income students as other nearby district schools. If they don’t, they must show that they’re making progress toward that goal.

Ultimately, the new framework was approved eight to five in a preliminary vote and will be brought back to the full board for approval on Tuesday.