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Seven takeaways from a closer look at the state test scores

The state released the results of this year’s third through eighth grade tests yesterday, and officials from City Hall to the charter sector lept to celebrate students’ gains.

Some changes were the focal point of the Department of Education’s Tuesday afternoon press conference—like the drop among English Language Learners and the boosts charter schools saw. But they avoided nuances in the results for the city’s new schools, which have been at the center of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s education reform policies. Beyond first impressions, here are seven interesting takeaways we parsed from the trove of data:

  • Like last year, English Language Learners took a step back. Students who are identified as English Language Learners improved slightly in math, but took another step back from the statistical gains they made on the literacy test (ELA) earlier in the decade, before the state made the exams tougher in 2010. While just under half of the city’s non-ELL students met the state’s ELA standards, just 11.6 percent of ELL students did so. But in math, the percentage of ELL students scoring proficient rose by 2.5 points, to 37 percent.
  • But students in other categories that typically struggle showed improvements. The percentage of students with disabilities who are proficient in math and literacy went up again this year, to 30.2 percent in math and 15.8 percent in English. And although Black and Hispanic students are still lagging behind their white peers by close to thirty percentage points in literacy and math, they also saw small bumps in both subjects. Officials said that new initiatives targeting struggling students, particularly students of color, contributed to the gains.
  • The third-grade math test was the hardest one to ace, according to citywide proficiency levels. Less than 13 percent of third graders earned a level four on the exams, known as “advanced proficiency.” That proportion was the lowest of any other grade and the gap was vast. Twenty-six percent or more of students in grades four through seven—and 19 percent of eighth graders—were rated advanced proficient on the math test. More than 26 percent of students in grades four through seven —and 19 percent of eighth graders — were rated advanced proficient on the math test.
  • Middle schoolers carried the district’s ELA gains on their shoulders. Last year, it was the city’s middle school grades that were one of the sore spots when the state released test score results. This year, they were a point of pride. The largest gains came in seventh and eighth grade. And while overall proficiency still in elementary school was still significantly higher, the gap appears to be narrowing.
  • For the most part, the schools the city took off their closure list, saying they were “poised to improve,” didn’t fare any better than the schools that stayed on the list. Of the elementary and middle schools the city prepped for closure with “early engagement conversations” last year, the lowest performing school was KAPPA VII, which the department decided not to close in February. Overall, the percentage of students proficient in Math and ELA for schools that were spared closure was nearly identical to the results for their closing counterparts. Those schools will likely be on the hook again this year, when the Bloomberg administration sets the list for its last round of school closures.
  • Mayor Bloomberg heralded new schools’ gains. But Several schools that have opened under Bloomberg’s tenure performed in the same league as schools that are closing — and far behind most traditional schools — with fewer than 30 percent of students scoring proficient in any subject, for any grade level. Bloomberg offered reporters a reason for the new schools’ spotty performance: “You’re starting a new school because the old school isn’t doing the job … so if they make any progress at all it really shows they’re going in the right direction.”
  • Charter Schools bounced back from a tough year in 2010 with significant gains. The charter school sector wasn’t nearly as enthusiastic to promote its gains two years ago, when reading scores slumped. After last year’s results barely budged, many charter school leaders decided to change their approach.

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