In a thick Russian accent, Sasha Growick imitated the voice of Rifka, the main character in "Letters from Rifka." The book, which Growick is incorporating into a unit on immigration, tells the story of a young Jewish girl's journey from Russia to the United States in the 1900s. Her 23 students sit cross-legged on a blue rug with colorful dots, completely enthralled by the story.
Every day during the last weeks of the school year, Growick spent about 40 to 50 minutes reading aloud and getting students to discuss the reading. The teacher has worked at Success Academy Bronx 2 for the last three years, where her students routinely post the highest test scores in the entire charter network. Growick's record recently earned her finalist status for the Fishman Prize for Superlative Classroom Practice, awarded annually by the nonprofit TNTP.
GothamSchools sat in on her daily read-aloud lesson last month as students discussed Rifka's reaction to her new country. As when we have chronicled other classes in the past, we've included both a description of what we saw, and in block quotes, a description of what the teacher said she was thinking.
9:28 a.m. Growick is finishing up the end of a chapter about Rifka arriving at Ellis Island and experiencing life in America for the first time. Rifka finds her younger brother wasting toilet paper and scolds him and says they will be sent back to Russia. Rifka tells another character in the book, Nurse Bowen, what happened and Nurse Bowen laughs at her.
Growick pauses and asks her students why she thinks Nurse Bowen is laughing at Rifka. She snaps her fingers and each student immediately turns to another and begin discussing the question. Growick bounces from group to group for about 45 seconds and then quickly comes back to the front of the classroom and raises her hand. The students stop talking.
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.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, and Deputy Chancellor Shael Polakow-Suransky walked reporters through a powerpoint presentation on the city's latest test score results.
This afternoon, Mayor Michael Bloomberg enjoyed what could be his last opportunity to point to clear gains on city test data.
The state is overhauling its testing program next year, and year-to-year comparisons favored by Bloomberg's test analysts will soon become futile.
Until then, city officials are championing the small gains almost every group of students made on this year's state tests, calling the scores a sign that some fledgling school initiatives are already working.
Breaking the test results down by race, grade level and students with disabilities, each group saw gains of one to four percentage points for the numbers of students scoring proficient on the literacy and math exams. But students of color are still performing well below their white peers, and the number of English Language Learners scoring proficient in literacy actually dropped by 1.8 percentage points.
"There is still a gap, and it is unacceptable, inexcusable and it is our responsibility to rectify it," Bloomberg told reporters this afternoon. He speculated that the ELL scores dropped because the city has begun declassifying greater numbers of ELL students who have become proficient in English.
Schools are still waiting for the results of state ELA and math tests, exactly one year after the 2010 scores were announced.
The July 26 Principals’ Weekly newsletter said that the state had “postponed the release” of the grade 3-8 scores, though the New York State Education Department said today that results were right around the corner.
“The release this year is imminent and will be announced shortly,” NYSED spokesman Tom Dunn said.
The Principals' Weekly item told principals that after the scores are released, they will need to send "July promotion update letters" to students who had been held back, and to students who failed the tests but had been promoted to the next grade on the expectation that they would pass.
Now, it looks like those July updates may not come until August.
Clemente Lopes, principal of Horace Greeley Middle School in Long Island City, said that he was anxious to see his school's scores—for planning, but also out of curiosity.
“I’d like to see how my students perform. I’m like a parent—I want to know how my kids did,” he said.
An effort to move state tests later in the year is gaining momentum, following a state Education Department survey that shows wide support among teachers for the change. More than 80 percent of nearly 23,000 parents, teachers, and school administrators the department surveyed this spring said they favor at least some rescheduling of the tests, and the state Board of Regents could implement a change as soon as the 2010-2011 school year, a member said.
Right now, students take English tests in January and math tests in March, but critics have said the timing doesn't give teachers enough time to bring students up to grade level. The early testing also makes it difficult to use test scores to evaluate teachers' effectiveness.
The Board of Regents, the state board that sets education policy, requested the survey. Betty Rosa, a Regents member from the Bronx, said that the Regents are likely to propose a change in the timing of tests for the 2010-2011 school year. "All the members have been very, very united on this front," Rosa said.
Merryl Tisch, the new Regents chancellor, did not return several requests for comment.
A screenshot (including a caption) from today's online press conference about state test scores, featuring State Education Commissioner Richard Mills and Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch.
More students across New York State scored proficient on the state reading and writing test this year than ever before, and gains by black and Hispanic students drove the improvements. The difference between white and black students' average scores is now at 18 points, down from 28 in 2006.
More students in New York City scored proficient, too; proficiency rose 18 percentage points to 69 percent from 51 percent in 2006. According to the city Department of Education, the difference between the percentage of black and Hispanic children who scored proficient on the test and the percentage of white students who did now stands at 22 percentage points, down from more than 29 three years ago.
State school leaders described the gains across New York as "moderate" because much of the increases were driven by a greater proportion of children just squeaking past the proficiency cutoff, State Education Commissioner Richard Mills explained during a press conference this morning.
The difference comes from looking at the actual scale scores students received, rather than the percentage of students deemed proficient. Scale scores are considered the most statistically useful way to evaluate test score gains. (Aaron Pallas has written about this on GothamSchools.)
Mills explained the distinction by providing three ways to look at this year's sixth-grade scores. The first is by looking purely at what proportion of students in the grade tested at basic proficiency. According to that metric, 81 percent of this year's sixth-graders met proficiency, compared to 60.4 percent of sixth-graders in 2006, the first year of a new statewide curriculum and testing program.
Looking at proficiency over time, 69 percent of children in 3rd grade in 2006 met standards; those are the same children who posted an 81 percent proficiency rating as sixth-graders this year. But the scale scores of that same cohort of children actually dropped slightly over the same period, from 669 to 667.