Scores for the new, more rigorous New York State Common Core tests were released last week. As expected, the results were not good and they gave ammunition to those who have been critical of the Bloomberg administration’s education policies.
However, New York City actually fared pretty well when compared to schools in other cities in the state and the gap between scores in the city and statewide averages closed considerably, and the mayor is lauding those results as a new benchmark for improvement.
As a whole, statewide scores were not very impressive. Just 31 percent of students in grades 3 through 8 in the state were at or above proficiency in math — a drop of more than 20 percent — while that number was 31.1 percent for English. In city schools, those numbers were 29.6 percent and 26.4 percent, respectively.
Dmytro Fedkowskyj, Queens’ representative on the Panel for Educational Policy, said he was disappointed by the scores, and added that the blame should not be placed on teachers and administrators.
“It’s disheartening to hear this news; the DOE has spent millions on testing and school report cards only to find out now that they didn’t really live up to the public standard touted by the mayor,” he said. “I believe our principals and teachers did and do a great job. They followed the rules and did what they were told, it’s not their fault.”
Arthur Goldstein, the United Federation of Teachers’ chapter leader at Francis Lewis High School said the biggest issue he had with Common Core is that it was implemented without being tested to see if it works.
“The thing you need to look at is if there is any validity to the structure of Common Core,” Goldstein said. “You’d think people running education systems believe in science, and that means experimenting and see if it works. There is no research, no practice, nothing to suggest there’s any validity to Common Core. Something like this needed to be phased in gradually to see if it can work.”
He believes the system is set up to fail and allow blame to be placed on the teachers.
“There is this assumption that education in America is in crisis,” he said, “and nothing that they do about it has been proven to work.”
Mayor Bloomberg and the DOE argue the results, which were expected to come in much lower, set a new baseline.
“Our administration has consistently raised the bar for our students — and given time and support, they have consistently risen to the occasion,” Bloomberg said. “We are confident that they will rise to this challenge — and it’s encouraging that our students are out-performing their peers in the other cities around the state.”
“We have known for over a year that a higher bar would initially mean lower scores,” Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said last Wednesday. “But this change is important, and students, teachers, and schools will not be penalized by the transition. With an unprecedented amount of support being provided, I have full confidence that schools will effectively take on this challenge and students will reach this higher bar, as they have many times before.”
Proficiency levels in math ranged from 35.2 for city fourth-graders to 25 percent for seventh-graders, while in English, the range was from 28.7 percent for fifth-graders to 23.3 percent for sixth-graders.
Math proficiency was at or above statewide standards among all races, most notably among white students, 50.1 percent in the city versus 38.1 percent statewide. Math scores were better among city students for English language learners, former ELL students and students with disabilities.
City students also outperformed state standards in English proficiency on all levels except Hispanic students, who performed 1.1 points lower in the city than statewide: 16.6 percent proficiency versus 17.7 percent, and Asian students, who performed 2.3 percent lower than statewide averages — 48.1 percent to 50.4 percent.
In math, charter schools outperformed traditional schools in the city by five points, but traditional schools scored slightly higher in the English exams, outperforming charter schools by 1.3 points.
Bill Phillips, president of the Northeast Charter Schools Network, called the results “bracing” and acknowledged more has to be done to improve scores.
“Despite better relative performance in math and English when compared to host districts, the hard reality is most charter schools are challenged by low proficiency rates,” he said in a statement. “Fortunately, charters are known for being flexible and accountable for performance, because we all have a lot of work to do.”
The results for students with disabilities, which were already low under the old testing system, are even lower now.
Only 8.4 percent of students with disabilities were proficient in math and 5.7 percent in English. Though both are higher than the state average, the low numbers concern teachers like Mary Arevalo, who teaches students with disabilities at JHS 157 in Rego Park.
Arevalo said teachers were completely unprepared to instruct their students for the new tests.
“The readings are so difficult and there has been no dialogue or narrative on how to teach kids in eighth grade reading at a third-grade reading level,” she said.
Arevalo added that students have been getting frustrated with the work and it is creating a situation where students give up. She suggested that the only real solution is to have parents step in.
“Parents are going to have to be proactive,” she said. “There’s going to have to be a lot more work at home.”
But that is difficult for many students who need the extra help because the lower scores tend to come from schools serving poorer students whose parents work long hours, or from students with disabilities and English-language barriers, whose parents may not have proficiency in English.
Goldstein said that the true problem with education stems from poverty and that is the issue where resources should be allocated.
“I have students whose parents work 200 hours a week in a Chinese restaurant,” he said. “Even at Francis Lewis, we have issues with students in poverty. If you really want to reform education, that’s the problem that needs to be solved.”
Goldstein questions such goals as starting to make students college-ready as early as the third grade, noting that some people don’t go to college and instead take trade jobs in industries like construction.
The DOE said the test scores will not be a factor in teacher evaluation scores for next year, nor will the scores affect student promotions or school progress reports.
Fedkowskyj said he isn’t opposed to testing, but feels the state exams as is are “out of control.”
“The weight of a single test has changed the way our teachers teach and that is of paramount concern to parents, our system should allow teachers to use their background and training without concerns of a weighted test score,” he explained. “The emphasis on actual learning is now playing second fiddle and teaching to the test has become a seductive way to approach this goal. Parents would agree that the city and state need to find other means of educational assessments and give our educators an opportunity to actually teach without the abuse of a weighted test score.”
The DOE is planning on doubling its investment in teacher development for Common Core to over $100 million and schools will receive an additional $10 million to support targeted, small-group tutoring after school. More than one million new books and resources will be given to hundreds of schools and more than 15,000 teachers are receiving professional development this summer.