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July 18, 2012
For some charters, 2012 reading test gains began with a struggle
Two years ago, just one in three students at Achievement First Bushwick were rated "proficient" on the state's reading tests. It wasn't exactly the kind of result promised from a high-performing charter school in a "no excuses" network. But the school has nearly doubled that rate in the two years since, according to state test scores released Tuesday. On the 2012 English language arts test, nearly 60 percent of students at the school were rated proficient, compared to 47 percent of students citywide. Bushwick's gains on the reading tests were among the largest made in the charter sector, which improved as a whole by seven percentage points, from 44.5 percent to 51.5 percent. The improvement — from matching the citywide average to scoring well above it — has provided fodder for charter school advocates and the Bloomberg administration to push back against critics who oppose the expansion of charter schools across the state. "Policy makers and legislators should take note" of the gains, said Bill Phillips, president of the New York Charter Schools Association."It’s not only a tougher measure than the host district comparison, it suggests that districts across the state should consider charters as another tool to better educate children." "We can't possibly handle the demand from parents for the charter schools," Mayor Bloomberg said during a press conference Tuesday. "They're just off the charts." Several charter operators announced their schools' test scores in celebratory press releases Tuesday. Deborah Kenny touted the eighth-grade math and reading scores at her schools, the Harlem Village Academies. The Success Academy network announced a 7-point gain in reading proficiency across its four schools with testing grades, more than twice the citywide improvement rate. And Democracy Prep said the low-performing charter school it took over last year had posted the largest reading proficiency gains of any school in the state, with third-grade reading proficiency hurtling from 28 percent in 2011 to 63 percent this year. The charter school sector wasn't nearly as enthusiastic to promote its gains two years ago, when reading scores slumped. Struggles to boost literacy were not unique to Achievement First Bushwick.
July 17, 2012
Bloomberg credits boosts in test results to new school initiatives
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.
July 17, 2012
Test results show "incremental" gains for both city and state
An early look at this year's state test scores shows that the percentage of students rated "proficient" in reading and math inched upward in New York City and across the state. In a press release announcing the scores today, state officials called the gains "incremental" but warned that scores still have a long way to go before they show that all students are on a path toward being prepared for college. According to the data released today, 46.9 percent of city students tested in grades 3-8 met the state's proficiency standard on the English language arts exam, compared with 44 percent last year. The proportion of students rated proficient in math increased to 60 percent from 57.3 percent a year ago. City students still lagged behind the state as a whole, where 55 percent of students scored proficient in reading and 65 percent scored proficient in math. But the city's scores increased by a wider margin than the state's. Across the state, reading proficiency increased by 2.3 points and math proficiency rose by 1.5 points. New York City also did better than several of the other large urban districts that it is often compared to. Scores increased in Yonkers and Syracuse, but they fell in Rochester and Buffalo. “The progress we see this year doesn’t give us a reason to rest – it gives us a reason to strive for even greater gains," Mayor Bloomberg said in a statement. "There’s still much more work to do, but there’s no question our students are headed in the right direction.”
July 17, 2012
Five things to look for in this year's state test scores, out today
When state test scores are released in about half an hour, it will happen solely by press release. For the second year in a row, state education officials are not holding a press conference to announce the year's results. Nor does the city appear to be planning to tout its scores. Last year, Mayor Bloomberg and Chancellor Dennis Walcott held a press conference to highlight the fact that city students' scores, while low, had increased more than those of students in the rest of the state. But there's nothing on Bloomberg's or Walcott's public schedule for today about the scores, and the Department of Education hasn't informed reporters about any surprise additions. Quiet from the city and state usually does not bode well for increases in test scores, an annual announcement until the state raised proficiency standards in 2010 and scores across the state dropped precipitously. It's also unusual that schools are not getting their scores before the state releases them to the public. But rather than read the tea leaves, we've prepared a crib sheet for the news that will come later today. Here are five things we'll be looking at when the scores come out: What they say about students' stamina. Next year, state test questions will be tied to new learning standards, known as the Common Core, and so the questions themselves are likely to be more challenging. But this year's tests changed mostly in length, with students in elementary and middle school sitting for twice as long as they did last year. Teachers and parents worried about students' ability to retain focus for so long, and some teachers also reported that students were thrown by questions that covered unfamiliar content or took an unfamiliar format — likely ungraded questions that the state will use as it toughens tests next year. The scores that come out today could confirm — or refute — the teachers' and parents' fears.
May 25, 2012
Principal evaluation results stabilized with test scores last year
As test scores stabilized last year, so did principals' evaluations. Two years ago, the state made it harder for students to score proficient on state exams. Scores dropped — and so did principals' ratings, because the ratings are based almost entirely on student test scores. Last year's test scores were more consistent with the previous year's results. Almost 90 percent of schools received the same grade on their city progress report as they had the year before, or rose or fell by just one letter grade. Because of the way the city calculates principals' performance ratings, the stable test scores meant that most principals' annual ratings could only improve. As a result, only about 1 percent of principals — 18 out of 1,485 — got the lowest rating on the city's five-point scale in 2010-2011. More than 25 percent landed in the highest category, "substantially meets expectations." Of the lowest-scoring principals, only five remained in their position this year.
May 22, 2012
With field tests approaching, parents are reprising protests
A group of parents and teachers are once again preparing to opt their children out of state tests, this time when their schools will administer “field” exams in over a thousand elementary and middle schools across the city next month. Field testing allows test makers to gauge the value of future test questions. Pearson, the company that currently makes New York's state tests, is preparing a slew of new questions that are aligned with new learning standards known as the Common Core. This spring's field tests focus on science, math, or reading, depending on the grade level. Students in selected schools already took the science test in mid-May, which was for grades 4 and 8. The math and reading tests are scheduled for the first week of June. The parents and teachers, who are part of the Change the Stakes coalition, are calling on parents to protest the testing, which will be administered on behalf of Pearson Education, the test publisher that famously drew criticism for the “pineapple” test questions on the state’s eighth-grade English exam in April. “This is just research for the company,” said Tony Kelso, whose third-grader is supposed to take the reading field test at Amistad Dual Language School in Inwood. Kelso added that he doubted Pearson would get useful information from the tests. “My understanding is that the tests aren’t even reliable. The students know they won’t count so they don’t take them seriously,” he said.
March 26, 2012
AJC analysis: Suspicious scores found widely, including in NYC
An analysis of nearly 15,000 districts' test scores turned up suspicious patterns that suggested that some cheating might be taking place in New York City schools. The analysis was conducted by a team of reporters and researchers at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the newspaper that covered last year's revelations about a far-ranging cheating scandal in Atlanta's schools. The team looked at changes in students' test scores from year to year, reasoning that large increases or decreases in groups of students' test scores would be unlikely without an unusual intervention such as cheating. The analysis does not identify instances of cheating, only places and times when cheating is considered more likely to have occurred. Most of New York's 32 school districts fell well within the normal range, with around 5 percent of classes showing unusually large score climbs or falls. But in a few places, the analysis detected swings in more than 10 percent of classes, a level that experts told the AJC team was highly improbable under normal circumstances. In Brooklyn's District 16, for example, 7.95 to 12.82 percent of classes between 2009 and 2011 showed suspicious test score swings. Between 2008 and 2011, the percentage of classes flagged in Manhattan's District 2, which includes many middle-class students, ranged from 7.41 to 12.5 — significantly higher than in neighboring districts.
February 9, 2012
Citing poll, NYSUT pushes for limited role of test scores in evals
Across the state, school districts are inching toward teacher evaluation deals one week before a deadline Gov. Andrew Cuomo set last month. According to NYSUT, the state teachers union, 100 school districts have agreed on how to put new evaluations in place and 400 districts "report making progress." That leaves just over 200 districts that, like New York City, are nowhere near agreeing with their local unions on new evaluation systems. Cuomo said last month that if districts do not settle on new evaluations by next week, he would use the budget amendment process to change the state evaluation law. Last year, in a hint of what the changes might entail, the governor pushed state policy-makers to double test scores' weight, from 20 to 40 percent, in an action that drew a successful legal challenge from the union.
January 6, 2012
Sticks, carrots, and familiar policies in state's NCLB waiver plan
New York will get new terms for high- and low-performing schools — and new ways to define good and bad performance — under a proposed accountability plan designed to replace the requirements of No Child Left Behind. The proposal, which was released in draft form late today and will be discussed by the Board of Regents on Monday, is the result of two months of planning in response to the Obama administration's offer to waive some of the decade-old federal law’s requirements, including one that requires full proficiency by 2014. In exchange, states must to commit to prioritizing college readiness, setting guidelines for teacher and principal evaluations, and holding schools and districts accountable for their students' performance on state tests. Under the proposal, the bulk of the state's testing program would remain unchanged. But elementary and middle school students would take science tests; the bar to be considered proficient on high school exams would be raised; and proficiency would be calculated not just by whether students met certain benchmarks, but by how much they improved. Schools that fall short would not get extra funding to pay for tutoring services, an arrangement that has shown mixed results. Instead, they would get extra money to carry out more of the initiatives that the Regents themselves have endorsed, such as improving teacher training and revising curriculum standards. Five percent of low-scoring schools would become Priority Schools and have to undergo federally mandated school overhaul approaches. Another 10 percent would become Focus Schools, and their districts would have to develop plans to improve them. For the first time, school districts will be evaluated with the same scrutiny as schools were under NCLB. "Since district policies often contribute to why schools have low performance for specific groups of students," the proposal says, "districts must play a lead role in helping schools to address this issue." New York City, a district certain to house many Focus and Priority schools, will not be evaluated as one entire district, according to a provision. Instead, each of the city's 32 districts would be evaluated based on state test scores for its schools.
December 16, 2011
More students in summer school this year, and more promoted
Five days before the official start to winter, the Department of Education has finished crunching numbers from summer school — and found that nearly one in five students told to attend shouldn't have had to. Of the elementary and middle school students whose test scores were so low that they had to attend summer school, two thirds were promoted in August, according to data the DOE released today. The numbers also show that thousands more high school students than usual signed up for summer classes when it looked like they wouldn't have a chance to retake Regents exams in January. Over 17,000 more high school students enrolled in summer school than in 2010, likely driven by the news that the state had voted to eliminate the January Regents exam administration, often used to retake failed tests required for graduation. The exams were reinstated in August, after the summer session had ended. Elementary and middle school students have less choice about whether to attend summer school. In those grades, whether a student is promoted depends on his state test scores. But the city doesn't find out students' scores until August, when summer school is already over. So every year, the city must predict whether a student is likely to pass the state exam — and tell those who seem likely to fail to register for summer classes. This year, the city told 34,069 students in grades 3-8 that they should attend summer school — or about 9 percent of all students in those grades. But 6,245 of those students actually passed the tests with a score of 3 or 4.
September 16, 2011
City's 2011 AP and SAT scores show little improvement overall
More city students than ever took exams that could earn them college credit last year. But the pass rate held steady at just over 50 percent. The number of city high school students taking rigorous Advanced Placement exams last year jumped by 6.9 percent, according to Department of Education data released today. That follows a push by the DOE to expand access to college-level coursework to more students. The number of students passing the exams also rose by 7 percent, meaning that students' overall performance didn't improve. Black students, who have lagged the most in both participation and performance on AP exams, did post higher scores, with 12.7 percent more passing tests than last year. The DOE also released information about how New York City students did last year on the SAT. Nationally, performance dropped as the number of test-takers rose. But here in New York, 10 percent more high school seniors took the SAT, but students' scores overall held flat or dropped by one point on the test's three different sections. Still, city students' average SAT score is well below the national average. This year, NYC students scored an average total score of 1,327, while the national average is 1,483. Both SAT and AP exam participation and performance will be factored into the college-readiness metric that the DOE will premiere on high schools' forthcoming progress reports.
August 11, 2011
A list of takeaways we noticed from this year's state test scores
Despite our ongoing attempt to streamline the mountain of information that came with the state's release of the 2010-2011 test scores, there are still plenty of takeaways that haven't been said on a press release or at a press conference. After taking a slightly deeper look at the data, here are 10 worthwhile bulletins to consider: Some of the neediest students took a step back; others showed progress. Students who are identified as English Language Learners, or ELL, improved slightly in math, but took another step back from statistical gains they made on the english test (ELA) earlier in the decade. While nearly half of the city's non-ELL students met the state's ELA standards, just 12 percent ELL students did so. That's down from 34 percent two years ago, when the standards were easier and 1 percent drop from a year ago. The ELL students improved slightly in math. Special education students improved in both ELA and math. The achievement gap remains vast. Schools in poor neighborhoods still struggle the most. In the South Bronx — one of the nation's poorest congressional districts — and central Brooklyn, average proficiency rates were below 30 percent in ELA and below 40 percent in math. (Citywide rates were 57 percent in math; 44 percent in ELA). In the city's more affluent neighborhoods, like Bayside, the Upper West Side and lower Manhattan, scores hovered at significantly higher rates. District 26 in Queens topped out in both subjects, with 74 percent proficiency in reading and 88 percent proficiency in math. New doesn't always mean better. More than a dozen schools in their first year of testing spanned both extremes of the performance spectrum. Half of them, including The Active Learning Elementary School, whose entire 20-student third grade class was perfectly proficient, significantly outperformed other schools in their districts. But many others struggled just as much as the closed schools that they were supposed to replace. In four such schools, less than a quarter of students did not meet reading standards. Just 5.8 percent of students at one school, Urban Scholars Community School, were proficient in reading. Charter schools outperformed their neighbors, mostly. Citywide, 69 percent of students in charter schools met standards in math, up from 63 percent last year. In ELA, 45 percent were proficient, up from 43 percent last year. Both beat citywide averages. Nearly 75 percent of the charter school classes that took a state exam scored better than their districts, on average.
August 10, 2011
A stab at a cleaner, more user-friendly look at city test score data
Click on the image to go straight to the new data below. When the state and city education officials released the 2010-2011 ELA and Math test data on Monday, they didn't make it easy for interested New Yorkers to make sense of the scores. One spreadsheet, released by the city Department of Education, left off school names and corresponded results only by school code. It also excluded public charter schools entirely. The state's spreadsheet included names, but listed every other public school in New York State as well. There was also no easy way to compare schools to one another. The city included a comparison against previous years' scores, but the file didn't allow users to compare change over time among schools. The state's data didn't include any previous scores at all. Not surprisingly, many of our readers emailed us to express their frustration over the scattered and unwieldy data. When I asked a DOE spokesman Matthew Mittenthal about it, he told me that grouping the data into school-by-school comparisons wasn't a priority when publishing the information. "We would never use test scores alone for accountability purposes, so we don’t actively encourage people to compare one school to another on that basis," Mittenthal wrote in an email. We spent the past couple of days playing with the spreadsheets so that it's easier and more intuitive. First, we corresponded codes used by the DOE to actual school names (for example, 15K447 = The Math & Science Exploratory School). Then, we stripped non-essential data and added last year's test results as a column header. Finally, we filtered the schools by performance so the best-scoring are at the top.
August 8, 2011
Some clues, many question marks in today's test scores release
For the first time in years, the state test scores set for release today are a big question mark. For many years, it was easy to predict that the annual test score announcement would be an occasion for state and city officials to point to gains. That pattern ended last year when state officials declared that the tests had been too easy and that the grading would change to raise the score needed for a student to be considered "proficient" in math or reading. For weeks before the city's average proficiency rate fell 26 percentage points in reading and 24 points in math, the public knew that a dropoff was coming. We have little warning about what today's news will bring. Last week, the New York Post reported that insiders at the State Education Department said the newest scores would show a small jump, about 2 percentage points in reading and 4 points in math. That would bring the percentage of city students rated "proficient" to about 44 percent in reading and 65 percent in math, far below the rates reached two years ago under the old scoring system. But comments made to Crain's New York by Success Charter Network CEO Eva Moskowitz suggested that not every school saw its scores increase. Comparing this year's scores to last year's, Moskowitz told Crain's, “I think you are going to be looking at a similar or potentially even worse situation." Schools have had their students' scores results since Thursday but were not allowed to share them publicly. Four things to note when the new scores are discussed today, first by state officials at 11 a.m. and later by Mayor Bloomberg at a press conference at city Department of Education headquarters:
August 1, 2011
In wake of national scandals, state is reviewing test security
New York State has launched a fast-moving process to tighten test security before it risks following Georgia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey into cheating scandals. State Education Commissioner John King has convened a group to review "all aspects of the state's testing system," according to a statement from Jonathan Burman, a State Education Department spokesman. The group, which Deputy Commissioner Valerie Grey is leading, is planning to work quickly, Burman said: It was formed in mid-July and will announce a "series of measures" to ensure test integrity before the school year begins a month from now. The announcement comes days before the state is set to release this year's reading and math test scores and amid growing revelations about widespread cheating in Atlanta, Philadelphia, and New Jersey. It also follows mounting anxiety among state officials about whether schools' performance had been inflated: Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch said in February that New York wished to avoid becoming "the Enron of test scores, the Enron of graduation rates." Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said he appreciated the state's efforts but emphasized that New York City has for years "gone above and beyond" state requirements when it comes to ensuring test integrity. “We welcome the state examining its standards, as it has always been its regulatory responsibility to ensure the reliability and security of state tests," he said in a statement.
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