test scores

New York City reading scores leap, matching state average for first time

PHOTO: Creative Commons / timlewisnm

The share of New York City students who passed the state English exams jumped by nearly 8 points this year to 38 percent, matching the state average for the first time, state officials said Friday. That spike beat the statewide increase by one point, and is four times greater than the city’s year-over-year increase in 2015.

City students also made smaller gains in math: 36.4 percent passed the exams in 2016, a roughly one point increase from the previous year. Statewide, about 39 percent of students passed that exam, according to state figures released Friday afternoon.

“These results represent important progress and outline real improvements across each borough of our city,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said in a statement. “We congratulate our students, families and devoted educators for this critical step forward.”

Meanwhile, 21 percent of students across the state refused to take the tests, which was about the same as in 2015, state officials said. The city’s opt-out rate, while far lower than the state’s, grew significantly in 2016. This year, 2.4 percent of city students sat out the English exams — a 71 percent jump over 2015. And 2.76 percent opted out of math, a 53 percent surge.

The statewide opt-out rate remained constant despite efforts by state officials to restore faith in the tests by making a series of adjustments. But leaders of the test boycott insisted that those changes did not go far enough and, on Friday, they said this year’s numbers indicate that movement remains strong.

“I think what it says is that parents are still extremely angry and extremely upset about assessments,” said Lisa Rudley, a parent and founder of New York State Allies for Public Education, which promotes opting out. “I just think it’s another indication that this is not going away in New York.”

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia cautioned on Friday that this year’s scores were not exactly comparable to previous years because of recent policy changes, such as giving students unlimited time this year to take the tests and reducing the number of questions. She said those adjustments, combined with students’ higher skills, might explain this year’s unusually large increase in students passing the tests. However, she insisted that the tests did not become less difficult, and that they were vetted for “reliability, rigorousness and validity.”

Elia also attributed New York City’s improvements to efforts by the city education department.

“There’s been some pretty intensive teacher training in the schools across New York City,” she said, “and I know that specifically there’s been an agenda to increase writing across city schools.”

All racial groups in New York City did better on the English tests this year, meaning that the so-called achievement gap between races mostly stayed the same. Black and white students saw their pass rates increase by 7.6 percentage points, while Hispanic students made a 7.4 point gain.

Non-native English speakers, who typically score far below their peers, did not gain ground this year. Just 4.4 percent of English learners passed the English exams — the same share as in 2015 — while 13 percent passed math, a modest decrease from last year. Those rates were slightly higher than the state averages.

Students with disabilities, who also usually score well below average, saw an uptick in English pass rates to just over 9 percent, up from nearly 7 percent last year. Math scores stayed essentially flat at 11.4 percent. Those rates were just above the state’s averages.

At least some of the city’s improvement on the English tests was driven by a dramatic spike in charter school scores. The city’s charter schools posted a nearly 14 point increase, jumping from 29 to 43 percent of students passing. In math, the charter schools also outperformed district schools, with a 4.5 point increase from 44 to nearly 49 percent. Charter schools enroll about 95,000 students, or roughly 8.6 percent of students citywide.

Finding a home

Denver school board permanently co-locates charter elementary in middle school building

Students and staffers at Rocky Mountain Prep's first charter school in Denver cheer in 2012. (Photo by The Denver Post)

A Denver elementary charter school that was temporarily granted space in a shuttering district-run middle school building will now be housed there permanently.

The school board voted Thursday to permanently place Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest charter school in the Kepner Middle School building, where it is sharing space this year with three other school programs. Such co-locations can be controversial but have become more common in a district with skyrocketing real estate prices and ambitious school quality goals.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest is part of a homegrown charter network that has shown promising academic results. The network also has a school in Aurora and is expected to open a third Denver school next year in the northwest part of the city.

Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest was first placed at Kepner for the 2015-16 school year. The placement was supposed to be temporary. The district had decided the year before to phase out low-performing Kepner and replace it a new district-run middle school, Kepner Beacon, and a new charter middle school, STRIVE Prep Kepner, which is part of a larger network. The district also temporarily placed a third charter school there: Compass Academy.

Compass has since moved out of Kepner but the other four schools remain: Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest, Kepner Beacon, STRIVE Prep Kepner and the Kepner Legacy Middle School, which is on track to be completely phased out and closed by June 2019.

In a written recommendation to the school board, district officials acknowledged that permanently placing Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest at Kepner would create a space crunch.

The Kepner campus has the capacity to serve between 1,100 and 1,500 students, the recommendation says. Once all three schools reach full size, officials expect the schools will enroll a total of approximately 1,250 students. Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest currently serves students in preschool through third grade with a plan to add more grades.

“DPS facilities staff are currently working with all three schools to create a long‐term vision for the campus, including facility improvements that ensure all three schools have what they need to continue to excel,” says the recommendation from Chief Operating Officer David Suppes and Director of Operations and Support Services Liz Mendez.

District staff tried to find an alternate location for Rocky Mountain Prep Southwest but were unsuccessful, the recommendation says. The district does not have many available buildings, and competition for them among district-run and charter schools can be fierce. In northeast Denver, seven secondary schools are currently vying for the use of a shuttered elementary.

Future of Schools

Indianapolis needs tech workers. IPS hopes that George Washington will help fill that gap.

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy

Indiana companies are looking for workers with computer expertise, and Indianapolis Public Schools leaders want their students to fill that gap.

Next year, George Washington High School will launch a specialized information technology academy designed to give students the skills to pursue careers in IT — and the exposure to know what jobs even exist.

“Half of what kids aspire to be is either someone they know does it or they’ve seen it on TV,” said Karen Jung, president of Nextech, a nonprofit that works to increase computer science preparation in K-12 schools. Nextech is partnering with IPS to develop the new IT program at George Washington.

For teens who don’t know anyone working in computer science, meeting role models is essential, Jung said. When teens see women of color or artists working in computer sciences, they realize there are opportunities for people like them.

“Once we put them in front of and inside of workplaces … it clicks,” Jung said. They believe “they would belong.”

The IT program is one of three academies that will open in George Washington next year as part of a broad plan to close nearly half of the district’s high schools and add specialized focus areas at the four remaining campuses. In addition to the IT academy, George Washington will have programs in: advanced manufacturing, engineering, and logistics; and business and finance.

The district is also moving to a model without neighborhood high schools. Students will be expected to choose high schools based on focus area rather than location. This year, many current high schoolers were required to reapply in an effort to make sure they enroll in academies that fit their interests.

The district will host a showcase of schools to help parents and students with their selections. The showcase runs from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Indiana State Museum.

Stan Law, principal of Arlington High School now, will take over George Washington next year. (Arlington will close at the end of this year.) He said the new academies offer an opportunity for students to see what they need to master — from soft skills to knowledge — to get good jobs when they graduate.

“I want kids to really make the connection of the purpose of high school,” Law said. “It is that foundation for the rest of your life, in terms of the quality of life that you are going to live.”

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy
Stan Law

When the IT academy launches next year, students who select the program will be able to spend about one to two classes per year focused on information technology, said Ben Carter, who runs career and technical education for IPS.

Carter hopes the academies will reshape George Washington and other IPS campuses by connecting potential careers with the work students do everyday at school. Students who share a focus area will be in a cohort, and they will share many of the same core classes such as English, math and history, said Carter. Teachers, in turn, will be able to relate what students are studying in their history class to projects they are working on in the IT program, for example.

To show students what a career in information technology might look like, students will have the chance to tour, connect with mentors and intern at local companies.

“If I’m in one of these career classes — I’m in software development, but then I get to go to Salesforce and walk through and see the environment, to me as a student, that’s inspiring,” said Carter. “It’s like, ‘oh, this is what I can have.’ ”

He added. “It increases engagement but also gives them a true sense of what the career is.”