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Today's release of the April 2013 state test results show that only 26 percent of New York City's 3rd through 8th graders are performing on grade level in reading and 30 percent are on grade level in math. While the city isn't far behind the state -- 31 percent of New York state students scored on grade level in both math and reading -- the numbers mean that 7 in 10 New York City students are below grade level when measured by the state's new Common Core aligned assesments. City officials emphasized that teachers and students will not be penalized for low scores.
Black, Hispanic, special needs kids and students learning to speak English fared especially poorly. The achievement gap remains a "daunting challenge," said Board of Regents Chancellor Meryl Tisch Wednesday.
At a press conference timed with the public release of data Wednesday morning, Tisch and Education Commissioner John King acknowledged the steep drop in proficiency levels. But they repeated the hopeful message sent by US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan yesterday: these scores set a "new baseline."
"I urge you to embrace the fact that this is a new standard; a significant standard has been created to adopt and adapt,” said Tisch of the Common Core realignment.
King also advised New Yorkers to reset their expectations for the federally-endorsed Common Core alignment that the state is undergoing, which Duncan, Tisch and King say will make students better prepared for life after high school. “Assessment results today establish a new baseline,” said King. “Changes in scores are largely a reflection of the new Common Core standards that the Board of Regents adopted in 2010.”
The education officials explained the huge drop in scores across the board as a consequence of the higher standards they say the Common Core puts into place for New York's students. "It's important that people not look at these results as a remediation problem. This is an instruction problem,” said King. He is confident Common Core standards are the solution to that instruction problem.
Michael Mulgrew, head of the UFT, criticized the magnitude of the drop in scores. "The scores should have dropped, but not to this level," Mulgrew said.
Education historian Diane Ravitch also expressed concerns about the new Common Core aligned state exams. After reviewing the 5th grade reading exam, Ravitch said the test was similar in difficulty to that of the 8th grade reading test for NAEP (a national assessment given to 8th graders and 4th graders). "My reaction was that the difficulty level of the passages and the questions was not age-appropriate," she wrote on her blog.
Test results for some of the city's most popular schools are surprisingly low. For example, PS 234 is a sought-after downtown Manhattan school but, acccording to the state tests, only 64 percent of school's 3rd-5th graders are reading on grade level and only 60 percent are performing at grade level in math.
The citywide results
Citywide scores are available by school here. Higher income areas like Manhattan's District 2 continue to out-perform higher poverty areas like East New York's District 23. Scores at the city's elite gifted and talented programs continue to be high: 95 percent of students at Anderson are proficient in reading and 98 percent in math -- just a few percentage points below 99 percent proficiency rates in both reading and math last year. At NEST+M, 94 percent of students scored 3's and 4's in math, 95 percent scored 3's and 4's in reading. Every 4th grader performed on grade level in math at both Anderson and NEST+m.
Students who score 3 and 4 on the state tests are considered "proficient," at or above grade level. Of Asian 3-8th graders in New York City, 48 percent scored level 3 and 4 on state reading tests, and 61 percent scored 3's and 4's on math tests. Half of the city's white students scored 3 or 4 on math tests, and 47 percent were proficient in reading. Hispanic students scored far worse on the state tests with only 17 percent proficient in English and 19 percent proficient in math. Among African American students, 16 percent scored on grade level in reading and 15 percent in math.
English language learners performed surprisingly poorly on math tests - only 11 percent were proficient in math. Last year, about a third of English language learners scored at or above grade level in math. Only three percent of English Languge Learners are on grade level in reading this year.
Special needs students also posted low numbers: eight percent scored 3's and 4's in math and 6 percent scored 3's and 4's in reading.
Teachers and schools will not be punished for the low scores, Chancellor Walcott and Mayor Mike Bloomberg said today, speaking at another press conference. Schools will be graded on a curve for progress reports, state test scores will not affect promotion decisions for students and teachers won't be evaluated based on their students' test scores until the 2014-2015 school year.
New York City families and students will be able to access individual student scores in ARIS on August 26, according to the Education Department. The DOE also plans to set up ARIS centers in select libraries with staffers available to help parents access scores, though it has not announced which libraries yet.
The 70 percent of 3rd-8th graders who scored at level 1 and 2 on the state tests will need extra support to catch up to grade level and may be eligible for school-based extras like AIS (academic intervention services) and after-school tutoring. The state is also "rethinking our school calendar and our school schedule,” and considering a longer school day or school year and other ways of expanding learning time, King said.
What should parents think?
William Frackelton, principal of the Soundview Academy in the Bronx, advised parents to think of the scores in the context of a larger shift toward higher standards that are more in line with international education standards. "It's easy to personalize this but understand the nation as a whole is trying to recalibrate," he said.
He suggested that parents worried about how their child scored on the exams should consider tutoring and investing in other enrichment activities for their children as educational expectations are just going to continue to rise. "Extracurricular now becomes the norm and not an extra," said Frackelton.
Parents of rising 5th and 8th graders who are concerned about applying to screened middle and high schools should know that some screened middle schools and a few screened high schools have decided to strike state tests from their admission requirements. Others will likely adjust cut-off scores based on this year's test. "Principals are smart, they'll know how to look at other measures to bring students into their schools," said Stacey Walsh, principal of Brownsville Collaborative, a middle school in Brooklyn's Distrcit 23.
"Test scores are just one measure and what it measures is up for debate," Walsh said. "I have a feeling that it will bring back multiple measures and give us a better picture of who the students is."
On the eve of the release of this year's New York state exam scores for 3rd-8th graders, city, state and national education officials attempted to cushion the blow of what is expected to be a significant drop in test scores.
City and state education departments have been warning parents for months that student proficency rates would drop this year, after the state introduced new tests aligned with the Common Core. The Common Core is a set of national education standards that have been adopted by 46 states and are supported by the nation's education secretary, Arne Duncan.
The drop was confirmed today by Duncan, who joined state Education Commissioner John King and city Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky on a conference call with reporters. They said that although test scores will dip, New Yorkers should take a long view and recognize that adopting the Common Core standards will better prepare students for success after high school.
“As a country we’ve had low standards for decades,” Duncan said. “It is the right thing to move forward, it isn’t easy.”
We had a number of questions this week from parents who are confronted with “Promotion in Doubt” letters, or “PIDs” as they are known in DOE lingo. These letters are sent to families of children who are at risk of repeating a grade or who may be failing a course needed to graduate. Here are three recent questions from parents who received a PID letter.
1.Why did I get a promotion in doubt letter, when my daughter's teachers have said that she is doing well and on target for graduation?
2. My kindergartner’s teacher says my son is making good progress according to the terms of his IEP, so why the letter?
3. I never heard this before from my child’s teachers and here it is almost the end of the school year and I'm just now getting the letter?
Here's some advice to these and other parents with similar problems.
As the May 10 deadline for parents to rank gifted and talented applications approaches, one Insideschools message board became a hotbed of anxiety. “Do you know what G&T is supposed to do with kids who get accepted to a G&T school but have IEP's requiring ICT placement?” asked one parent. “My son also has an IEP and is in ICT and is G&T. No place for him....” echoed another. The questions about inclusive gifted classes didn’t stop.
Parents want it, educators applaud it, and the DOE supports the idea—at least in theory. But a year after special education reform, there is still not a single combined G&T/ICT class in the city. No one seems to understand why.
"Twice exceptional” or "2e" kids are cognitively gifted children who also struggle with learning and attention disorders. Many of these students' Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) call for an Integrated Co-Teaching (ICT) class, which has two teachers, one of whom is trained in special education. The special education reform rolled out in all schools last year is meant to allow students to attend their school of choice and still receive needed special services, including these team-taught classes.
As the day of my son’s Turning 5 meeting drew closer, a cloud of anxiety hovered over our New York City apartment. I had braced for a fight several months before, when our school-appointed social worker refused to observe Noodle at pre-K because she was “too busy.” Just applying to our zoned school had sapped all my strength. The parent coordinator took ill one week before the DOE deadline and had not left anyone in charge.
Thankfully, by the last hour of the last day for applications, a living breathing human was able to take my paperwork and I signed up Noodle for kindergarten. After an in-person meeting and more emails with the social worker, we seemed on better terms. She agreed to visit Noodle at preschool, and gave me the name of a behavior specialist who turned out to be quite wonderful.
So by the time I braved snowfall in late March to reach our IEP meeting, I wasn’t expecting any surprises. Everyone seemed to be on the same page for next year: an ICT classroom (a mix of gen ed and special needs kids with two teachers, one of whom has a special ed degree) and occupational therapy. I’d already waged a war in my own mind: Will ICT be academically challenging enough for my chess-playing 4-year-old? Will being in a class with other struggling kids give him more opportunities to model bad behavior? But I’d moved past these stereotypes. I’d done my research, spoken to parents of ICT students and talked Noodle’s teachers’ ears off about what was best for him. I was ready for a truce.
Parents whose children turn four this year may start applying for pre-kindergarten this week. Applications are available online now and the Education Department will host pre-K info sessions in all five boroughs this week, beginning in Queens tonight. Applications are due April 5.
Pre-K programs are housed in public schools or at local child care centers and community organizations, and are either half day (2.5 hours), or full day, (6 hours and 20 minutes.) The state mandates that each pre-k class may have a maximum of 18 students with two teachers.
Applying for pre-K gives parents a first taste of New York City's competitive public school admissions process. Any child who was born in 2009 may apply, but admission is not guaranteed: Last year, 30 percent of the kids who applied for pre-K didn't land seats in DOE programs.
Somewhere between my son's annual science fair last year and his most recent monthly book report, I have turned into that kind of parent. You know, the kind who becomes so attached to designing and building the paper-mâché volcano that their child's involvement becomes quite beside the point?
It started out innocently enough: my idea was for Brooks to write a song about "Scaredy-Cat Catcher," a chapter book we had been reading together. Yes, it was my idea, but in my defense, I only presented it because my son's idea was to repeat a project we had done the last time (which had been my husband's idea).
On the plus side, Brooks was very involved with many aspects of this perhaps overly-ambitious project. We read the book together twice over a period of a few weeks and outlined the basic storyline. And then Brooks came up with the chorus on his own: he simply started to improvise and I picked out one of his catchier melodic phrases that rhymed.
Six in ten city schools have physical education classes only once or twice a week for 45 minutes, way below what the state education department mandates, according to a new American Heart Association (AHA) report based on a survey of public and charter schools in all five boroughs.
It's the city's youngest students who are most likely to miss out on vital PE time, says the Women's City Club of New York (WCC), a non-profit civic organization, that advocates for more physical education in all schools. Elementary grades do not have enough teachers citywide to meet state PE regulations, based on WCC's analysis of Independent Budget Office data. Yet, according to New York state regulations, the youngest children are supposed to get the most exercise. The rules call for daily physical educaton for grades K-3, three times a week for 4th-6th graders and 90 minutes a week for older students.
Middle school students have enough gym teachers and high schools, which require students to earn two PE credits in order to graduate, have a surplus of PE teachers, according to the IBO data.
City public schools with tight budgets and shared buildings struggle to provide adequate physical education, especially in our era of high stakes testing.
But prioritizing test-prep over PE is misguided, say advocates of physical education in schools. Studies show that, "not only does PE help curb obesity, but it also increases test scores and grades," said Amy Schwartz, chairperson of the Physical Education in City Public Schools Task Force, a project of the Womens City Club of New York.
On Thursday at 3 pm, on the steps of City Hall, the Womens City Club will join forces with the American Heart Association and City Council members Melissa Mark-Viverito, Robert Jackson, Letitia James and Gale Brewer to ask the city's Department of Education to right their phys ed wrongs and bring city schools up to state-mandated standards. The Women's City Club will release a new report, which "raises questions about the fairness and equity of PE provisions in City public schools," according to Womens City Club's website. The American Heart Association will release theresults of its survey of PE classes in city schools.
In 2011, Womens City Club prompted Comptroller John Liu to audit the city's schools, revealing that most do not meet state-mandated PE standards: daily physical educaton for grades K-3, three times a week for 4th-6th graders and 90 minutes a week for older students. This latest report is based on data from the city's Internal Budget Office.
For pre-K families, 2013 is a year of big transitions. Our kids will be saying goodbye to the duck pond of preschool and jumping headfirst into the murky East River of kindergarten. Parents of kids with special needs have another hurdle ahead. The dreaded “Turning 5 meeting” determines whether those currently receiving support for developmental delays and learning disorders will continue to get it…or not.
For kids like my son, who are on the border of general education and special needs, the Committee on Special Education (CSE) is a tough sell. And kindergarten, with its larger class sizes and longer days, is a demanding transition. CSE doesn’t make it easier. Now Noodle will have to fit into one of 13 special education categories in order to qualify. Suddenly my quirky, bright, wonderful, often-exasperating child who never really fit any label will have to—if we want him to keep getting help.
The problem is we’re not sure. After two years of PT (physical therapy), OT (occupational therapy) and SEIT (special education itinerant teacher), Noodle is doing great, but the road has often been rocky.