testing 1-2-3

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.
  • But some charter schools didn’t fit into this trend. A notable exception was Opportunity Charter School, which was the lowest scoring charter school in the city. Just 3 percent of its eighth graders were proficient in reading and just 23 percent met standards in math. By design, the school has a high number of special education students, who typically score much lower on state tests. But this year, as we reported, Opportunity also experienced significant internal turmoil, including a unionization bid by its teachers and the subsequent firing of at least 14 of them. Other charter schools with scores worth noting? The school operated by the United Federation of Teachers posted proficiency rates well below the charter school median score in nearly every grade. And The Equity Project, a charter school in Harlem that pays first-year teachers $125,000, had its second straight year of mediocre marks. TEP’s average scores hovered close to — or fell below — the district average.
  • Unsurprisingly, the city’s highest-scoring schools are also its most selective. The citywide gifted and talented Anderson School, which rarely admits anyone with a score below the 99th percentile on a nationally normed aptitude assessment, had the highest average scores in the city. Many other high-performing schools also contain gifted programs, which limit admission to students scoring in the 90th percentile or higher on the same tests.
  • Few schools experienced big score gains. There were exceptions, such as the Brighter Choice Community School in Brooklyn profiled in the Daily News, where the principal attributed a 55 point gain in its ELA scores to a bad year last year and a smaller class and new resources this year. But most schools saw change within a point or two of the citywide average. One explanation could be that the new test standards, put in place to curb grade inflation, actually worked. A more cynical take would be that principals changed their schools’ testing conditions and scoring policies in response to increased scrutiny by the city. In February, city officials announced that they would begin auditing 60 high schools whose Regents scores and graduation rates showed suspicious patterns, including large score gains in a short time. While the schools that received scores this week weren’t part of these audits, principals might have worried that the department’s auditors would turn to elementary and middle schools next. An even more cynical read on the flatter scores? That students simply didn’t learn more than last year.
  • A handful of schools did see big drops in their scores. Reading scores at P.S. 197 John B. Russwurm in Manhattan dropped 24 points, although it improved slightly in math.
  • The state doesn’t think the tests the scores came from were very good. The state completely discredited exams given before last year, saying their results frequently called students proficient when they weren’t. Now the state has made some incremental changes, such as adding more questions and keeping old questions under wraps to make coaching harder. But it’s still planning to join many other states in adopting completely new tests in three years. Those tests will be based on the new Common Core standards and are likely to prompt a massive dropoff in scores, as testing experts have documented typically happens when accountability measures suddenly change.
  • And yet the scores really matter. The city’s argument that it doesn’t judge schools “solely” according to test scores is a little disingenuous. It’s true that decisions about whether to close schools are based on a number of data points, including their progress reports, school surveys, and quality reviews. But 85 percent of a school’s letter grade on its progress report comes from students’ test scores arrayed in various ways.

Weekend Reads

Need classroom decor inspiration? These educators have got you covered.

This school year, students will spend about 1,000 hours in school —making their classrooms a huge part of their learning experience.

We’re recognizing educators who’ve poured on the pizazz to make students feel welcome. From a 9th-grade “forensics lab” decked out in caution tape to a classroom stage complete with lights to get first graders pumped about public speaking, these crafty teachers have gone above and beyond to create great spaces.

Got a classroom of your own to show off? Know someone that should be on this list? Let us know!

Jaclyn Flores, First Grade Dual Language, Rochester, New York
“Having a classroom that is bright, cheerful, organized and inviting allows my students to feel pride in their classroom as well as feel welcome. My students look forward to standing on the stage to share or sitting on special chairs to dive into their learning. This space is a safe place for my students and we take pride in what it has become.”

Jasmine, Pre-K, Las Vegas, Nevada
“My classroom environment helps my students because providing calming colors and a home-like space makes them feel more comfortable in the classroom and ready to learn as first-time students!”

 

Oneika Osborne, 10th Grade Reading, Miami Southridge Senior High School, Miami, Florida
“My classroom environment invites all of my students to constantly be in a state of celebration and self-empowerment at all points of the learning process. With inspirational quotes, culturally relevant images, and an explosion of color, my classroom sets the tone for the day every single day as soon as we walk in. It is one of optimism, power, and of course glitter.”

Kristen Poindexter, Kindergarten, Spring Mill Elementary School, Indianapolis, Indiana
“I try very hard to make my classroom a place where memorable experiences happen. I use songs, finger plays, movement, and interactive activities to help cement concepts in their minds. It makes my teacher heart so happy when past students walk by my classroom and start their sentence with, “Remember when we…?”. We recently transformed our classroom into a Mad Science Lab where we investigated more about our 5 Senses.”

 

Brittany, 9th Grade Biology, Dallas, Texas
“I love my classroom environment because I teach Biology, it’s easy to relate every topic back to Forensics and real-life investigations! Mystery always gets the students going!”

 

Ms. Heaton, First Grade, Westampton, New Jersey
“As an educator, it is my goal to create a classroom environment that is positive and welcoming for students. I wanted to create a learning environment where students feel comfortable and in return stimulates student learning. A classroom is a second home for students so I wanted to ensure that the space was bright, friendly, and organized for the students to be able to use each and every day.”

D’Essence Grant, 8th Grade ELA, KIPP Houston, Houston, Texas
“Intentionally decorating my classroom was my first act of showing my students I care about them. I pride myself on building relationships with my students and them knowing I care about them inside and outside of the classroom. Taking the time to make the classroom meaningful and creative as well building a safe place for our community helps establish an effective classroom setting.”

 

Jayme Wiertzema, Elementary Art, Worthington, Minnesota
“I’m looking forward to having a CLASSROOM this year. The past two years I have taught from a cart and this year my amazing school district allowed me to have a classroom in our school that is busting at the seams! I’m so excited to use my classroom environment to inspire creativity in my students, get to know them and learn from their amazing imaginations in art class!”

 

Melissa Vecchio, 4th Grade, Queens, New York
“Since so much of a student’s time is spent inside their classroom, the environment should be neat, organized, easy to move around in but most of all positive. I love to use a theme to reinforce great behavior. I always give the students a choice in helping to design bulletin boards and desk arrangements. When they are involved they take pride in the classroom, and enjoy being there.”

moving forward

After Confederate flag dispute at Colorado football game, schools pledge to bring students together

PHOTO: Marc Piscotty
Manual High students.

Acknowledging “we may never have a conclusive picture of what happened,” two Colorado school districts sought to move past a controversy over whether a Confederate flag was displayed at a football game and open a conversation between the two school communities.

The principal of Manual High, Nick Dawkins, wrote in a community letter over the weekend that the visiting Weld Central High School team “displayed a Confederate flag during the first quarter of the (Friday night) game, offending many members of the Manual community.”

Officials from Denver Public Schools and Weld County School District Re-3J released a joint letter Tuesday saying that based “on what we have learned to date, however, the Weld Central team did not display the Confederate flag.” At the same time, it said, multiple Manual eyewitnesses “reported seeing spectators who attempted to bring a Confederate flag into the game and clothing with flag images.”

Going forward, students from the two schools — one rural and one urban — will participate in a student leadership exchange that has student leaders visit each other’s schools and communities to “share ideas and perspectives,” the letter says.

“At a time in our country when so many are divided, we want our students instead to come together, share ideas and learn together,” says the letter, which is signed by the principals of both schools and the superintendents of both school districts.

The alleged incident took place at a time when issues of race, social injustice, politics and sports are colliding in the United States, making for tough conversations, including in classrooms.

Weld Central’s mascot is a Rebel. Manual, whose mascot is the Thunderbolts, is located in one of Denver’s historically African-American neighborhoods.

Dawkins in his initial community letter also said “the tension created by the flag led to conflict on and off the playing field,” and that three Manual players were injured, including one who went to the hospital with a leg injury. He also said some Manual players reported that Weld Central players “taunted them with racial slurs.”

Weld Central officials vehemently denied that their team displayed the flag. In addition, they said in their own community letter they had “no evidence at this point that any of our student athletes displayed racially motivated inappropriate behavior.”

They said district officials “do not condone any form of racism,” including the Confederate flag.

Weld Central fans told the Greeley Tribune that they didn’t see any Confederate flag.

Read the full text below.