Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, and Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky walked reporters through a powerpoint presentation on the city's latest test score results.
This afternoon, Mayor Michael Bloomberg enjoyed what could be his last opportunity to point to clear gains on city test data.
The state is overhauling its testing program next year, and year-to-year comparisons favored by Bloomberg's test analysts will soon become futile.
Until then, city officials are championing the small gains almost every group of students made on this year's state tests, calling the scores a sign that some fledgling school initiatives are already working.
Breaking the test results down by race, grade level and students with disabilities, each group saw gains of one to four percentage points for the numbers of students scoring proficient on the literacy and math exams. But students of color are still performing well below their white peers, and the number of English Language Learners scoring proficient in literacy actually dropped by 1.8 percentage points.
"There is still a gap, and it is unacceptable, inexcusable and it is our responsibility to rectify it," Bloomberg told reporters this afternoon. He speculated that the ELL scores dropped because the city has begun declassifying greater numbers of ELL students who have become proficient in English.
One of the largest pots of money in the city's new initiative to aid black and Latino young men is going to the Department of Education.
Of the initiative's $127 million price tag, $24 million will be used to study and develop the best practices of city high schools that have best prepared male minority students for college and work. Billionaire philanthropist George Soros will foot the bill for the three-year program, called the Expanded Success Initiative.
The funding will allow the Department of Education to hire a team of research consultants to study 40 high schools with a track record of bridging the achievement gap for black and Latino male students. Josh Thomases, the DOE's deputy chief academic officer charged with coordinating the program, said the city had not yet identified the schools that would be studied.
“We’re looking for schools with a high concentration of black and Latino boys, with high poverty and Title I funding, but with an evidence of success,” Thomases said.
“We’re agnostic to what kind of school it is,” he added. “We’re looking at the schools that have had success graduating black and Latino boys at a high school level and expanding it to other schools."
Thomases, citing a study published by Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation (MDRC) last year, said that he would look particularly close at small high schools in New York City, which have shown higher rates of graduation and credit accumulation.
Today's the day that guidance counselors distribute envelopes to eighth graders with news of whether and which of the city's top-tier high schools opened the door for them. But for minority students, the news continues to be grim.
Combined, white and Asian students account for 70 percent of the students admitted to elite schools like Stuyvesant, the Bronx High School of Science, and Brooklyn Technical High School. Hispanic students make up 6 percent of those admitted and black students 5 percent. The remainder, 18 percent, come from private or parochial schools and racial data for them was not available.
Despite repeated statements of concern from city officials about the tiny number of minority students earning entry to top high schools, the numbers have only declined in the last three years. In 2009, 744 black and Hispanic students earned seats at specialized high schools. This year, 642 made it in.
Meanwhile, the number of minority students sitting for the exams has increased. Black and Hispanic students now make up a greater percentage of test takers than they did in 2009.
A slide from the state's test score PowerPoint presentation
The results of the 2009 state math test are in, and state officials are welcoming them as a sign of overall, if modest, improvement.
More students across the state in grades 3-8 met the proficiency standards than in the previous four years, with 86.4 percent of them scoring proficient, compared to 80.7 percent last year and just 65 percent in 2006, when the state instituted a new math curriculum. In New York City, the percentage of students that met the state's proficiency standard jumped to 81.8 percent this year from 74.3 percent in 2008.
Unlike with this year's reading test scores, the math test scores showed similar increases in the percentage of students testing as proficient or better and the scale scores that students posted. Statewide, scale scores, which are considered the most statistically useful way to evaluate test score gains, rose by six points in 2009. New York City slightly edged out the rest of the state, with an 8-point scale score gain.
A screenshot (including a caption) from today's online press conference about state test scores, featuring State Education Commissioner Richard Mills and Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch.
More students across New York State scored proficient on the state reading and writing test this year than ever before, and gains by black and Hispanic students drove the improvements. The difference between white and black students' average scores is now at 18 points, down from 28 in 2006.
More students in New York City scored proficient, too; proficiency rose 18 percentage points to 69 percent from 51 percent in 2006. According to the city Department of Education, the difference between the percentage of black and Hispanic children who scored proficient on the test and the percentage of white students who did now stands at 22 percentage points, down from more than 29 three years ago.
State school leaders described the gains across New York as "moderate" because much of the increases were driven by a greater proportion of children just squeaking past the proficiency cutoff, State Education Commissioner Richard Mills explained during a press conference this morning.
The difference comes from looking at the actual scale scores students received, rather than the percentage of students deemed proficient. Scale scores are considered the most statistically useful way to evaluate test score gains. (Aaron Pallas has written about this on GothamSchools.)
Mills explained the distinction by providing three ways to look at this year's sixth-grade scores. The first is by looking purely at what proportion of students in the grade tested at basic proficiency. According to that metric, 81 percent of this year's sixth-graders met proficiency, compared to 60.4 percent of sixth-graders in 2006, the first year of a new statewide curriculum and testing program.
Looking at proficiency over time, 69 percent of children in 3rd grade in 2006 met standards; those are the same children who posted an 81 percent proficiency rating as sixth-graders this year. But the scale scores of that same cohort of children actually dropped slightly over the same period, from 669 to 667.
A statistic that Joel Klein, Al Sharpton, and Mort Zuckerman have all recently employed to bemoan the racial achievement gap appears to be wrong.
Here's the statistic, as Klein and Sharpton recently summarized in the Wall Street Journal (and Mort Zuckerman used it here):
"today the average 12th-grade black or Hispanic student has the reading, writing and math skills of an eighth-grade white student."
The problem isn't the principle behind the claim; America definitely has a racial achievement gap. The problem, according to an official at the National Center for Education Statistics, is in the specific way that Klein et al describe the gap.
The best available measure we have to compare all American kids is the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or the NAEP test. But the NAEP test, which is given only to a sample of students across the country, not to every child, does not permit the kind of detailed comparison Klein's statistic would demand, Arnold Goldstein, the NCES official, said. "It would be great if we could. It's kind of frustrating not to be able to make these sorts of statements," said Goldstein, who is program director for design, analysis, and reporting at NCES's assessment division. "But that’s a limitation of the data."
I contacted the Department of Education several times for comment but got no response this week. UPDATE: A spokesman, Andrew Jacob, wrote to say that Klein got the statistic from "No Excuses: Closing the Racial Gap in Learning," a book by Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom.
Both the mayor and the chancellor have now issued statements boasting about gains on Advanced Placement exams, the rigorous tests that are considered a good indicator of whether students are prepared for college. But the picture is more complex than they suggest, and if anything the evidence adds to concerns raised yesterday about college preparedness, particularly among black and Hispanic students.
More students are definitely taking the exams than were in 2002, whether you look at the sheer numbers — a total of 23,600 students took the tests in 2008, up from less than 17,000 in 2002 — or at proportions — in 2008, about 23% of eleventh- and twelfth-graders took AP exams, up from 21% in 2002.*
But, as I suggested yesterday, the increased participation has led to a lower pass rate:
America's schools systematically fail to educate black males as well as they educate other students, according to a new report by the Schott Foundation for Public Education, Given Half a Chance: The Schott 50 State Report on Public Education and Black Males.
If Black students did poorly in all schools, we would plausibly seek solutions to the problem of their achievement among those students themselves. The same would be the case if, in schools with majority Black enrollments, Black students did poorly and the other students did well. But in reality, Black students in good schools do well. At the same time, White, non-Hispanic students who attend schools where most of the students are Black and their graduation rates are low, also do poorly. The crisis of the education of Black males sits squarely in the middle of the crisis America faces as we work to create a world-class public education system that will support and maintain the values of a fair and equitable democratic society.
According to the report, in New York State, 39 percent of black male students graduated from high school in 2005-06, compared to 75 percent of white male students, and far more black male students performed at the Below Basic level on all sections of the NAEP tests compared to white male students. Also, as the report points out, on the eighth grade NAEP reading assessment, "virtually none reach the Advanced level." Furthermore, black males in New York State are about 5 times less likely to be placed in Gifted and Talented programs, and nearly 3 times more likely to be classified as mentally retarded.