August 20, 2016
By Suzanne Popadin
New York, NY – Students in grades 3-8 in every school district in New York City improved on the state’s Common Core English Language Arts test in 2016, matching the performance of their peers in the rest of the state for the first time.
Test scores released on July 29 by the state Education Department show 38 percent of New York City students tested as proficient (Levels 3 or 4) in ELA, a 7.6 percentage-point increase from the previous year. Statewide, 37.9 percent of students were deemed proficient, a 6.6 increase.
In math, the gains were more modest. The percentage of city students testing as proficient was up 1.2 percentage points to 36.4 percent, slightly better than the statewide improvement of 1 percentage point to 39.1 percent.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew thanked the teachers, students and parents for their hard work. “With a common sense approach to education, we are seeing results,” he said. “We know test scores are just one indicator of all the great work going on in our public schools. There is still more to do, but we are moving in the right direction.”
At a press conference on the scores at city Department of Education headquarters on Aug. 1, Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “The steps we took, the investments we made are paying off.”
Every percentage point increase equals 4,000 more students becoming proficient, meaning more than 30,000 New York City students became proficient in ELA in 2016, the mayor noted.
When it came to improvement, the schools in de Blasio’s School Renewal Program kept pace with other schools in the city. These schools, which serve large numbers of high-need students, posted roughly similar gains in both tests when compared to students in other city schools. ELA test scores in 59 of the 63 renewal schools where students took the test showed improvement, according to DOE data. The DOE redoubled its focus on literacy in those schools in the 2015-16 school year.
Mayor de Blasio noted that 26,000 New York City students tested out of Level 1 in ELA, the lowest of the four scoring levels, one of the largest improvements in years. According to DOE data, 34.3 percent of black New York City students scored at Level 1 this year, down from 43 percent, and 34.2 percent of Hispanic New York City students scored at Level 1, down from 41.6.
That means “we are reaching kids who need help the most,” the mayor said.
The de Blasio administration’s focus on early literacy and intervention yielded dividends, with ELA increases being highest in the 3rd and 4th grades, school officials said. The only grade-level decrease was in 5th-grade math, where the DOE is now encouraging schools to “departmentalize” by having math taught by one or more teachers with expertise in math instruction who receive additional intensive training.
The racial achievement gap stayed about the same in ELA, as all racial groups in the city did comparably better on the ELA tests. New York City students who had received English language learner services in the past but were no longer receiving them in 2015-16 saw a 9 percentage point increase in ELA scores, according to state officials. The percentage of New York City students with disabilities testing as proficient was up 2 percentage points while their math scores stayed the same.
Of the five largest school districts in New York State — Buffalo, New York City, Rochester, Syracuse and Yonkers — New York City saw the biggest improvements in both ELA and math. New York City has, by far, the largest percentage of proficient students.
Both Chancellor Carmen Fariña and state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia attributed the big jump in ELA proficiency to increased professional development for educators, an increased emphasis on writing across grades and curriculum, and better communication with parents.
The 2016 assessments were shorter this year, and students productively working were allowed to complete their exams without time constraints. Elia said those changes made an “apples-to-apples” comparison with previous years impossible. But she was also clear that the state’s high standards had not changed.
“We like the new test better,” Fariña said at the DOE press conference. “It’s not easier; it has the same rigor. And the kids come in with a little less stress.”
Statewide, approximately 21 percent of the 1.1 million eligible students opted out of the tests, about the same as last year. The city’s opt-out rate once again was much lower, with 2.4 percent of students opting out of the English tests and 2.8 percent refusing to take the math tests.