local assessment

As in most districts, city students' scores on national test are flat

A slide from a Department of Education presentation about the city's NAEP scores

New York City students posted essentially flat scores on a national exam considered the most accurate measure of student progress.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress, commonly known as NAEP, or the nation’s report card, is given every two years to fourth- and eighth-graders across the country. Statewide results, which came out last month, showed that New York was one of just two states to post significant score drops.

In local results released today, city students bucked that trend. Their scores stayed flat or rose or fell by degrees that are not statistically significant.

District-level results were released today for 21 districts across the country that participate in a more detailed study. Only one of the districts, North Carolina’s Charlotte-Mecklenburg, posted significant gains in reading, and nine districts showed significant gains in math.

Still, only about a third of city fourth-graders met or exceeded NAEP’s benchmark for proficiency in reading and math, about half as many as who met proficiency standards on this year’s state tests. It was the discrepancy between state test scores and NAEP results that triggered state officials to acknowledge last year that the state’s test scores were inflated.

On this year’s NAEP exam, New York City students’ reading scores dropped by three points, the same as statewide. Eighth-graders’ math scores fell by one point, less than the three points that scores across the state declined this year.

Fourth-graders’ reading scores didn’t change, while eighth-graders’ reading scores increased by two points, more than the single point gain experienced statewide and nationally.

None of the city’s shifts since 2009 were considered statistically significant. But gains in fourth- and eighth-grade math scores and fourth-grade reading scores since 2002, when the district’s performance was first measured, are still up significantly.

Department of Education officials emphasized that fact in a press release touting the new scores today. They also called attention to city students’ performance compared against that of students across the state and the performance of low-income students in New York City, which was also one of four districts with smaller-than-average score gaps separating higher- and lower-income students.

“On all four tests, low-income students in New York City now outperform their peers across the nation, and that’s a reason to be proud,” Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky said in a statement. “The key challenge is to change our instruction and improve our assessments so that students keep moving forward.”

In a statement, UFT President Michael Mulgrew called the newest NAEP scores “generally undistinguished” and said they showed that fundamental changes are needed if schools are to help more students reach academic proficiency.

“This year’s NAEP scores, combined with the city’s generally undistinguished results in prior years, is a lesson on how kids get shortchanged by school reform driven by a political agenda rather than research and evidence,” Mulgrew said. “We’re not going to see real and consistent improvement until the system turns its back on test prep and begins to focus on strong curriculum and real instruction.”

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.