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Sunday, April 8, 2007

Looking at NYC Achievement Data by Diane Ravitch

Last week, New York City was again listed as a finalist for the Broad Prize, which recognizes the most improved big-city school district.

We know that the leading claims of the DOE about having made "historic gains" in reading and math on state tests are not actually true (the city did not gain 19 points in math since the Children First reforms began, but 4 points; and it did not gain 12 points in reading, but 6).

But I began to wonder about other subjects. In May 2005, it was reported in all the city's newspapers that 81% of eighth graders failed to meet state standards in social studies, a decline of nearly 20 percentage points since 2002. While 18.6% of NYC eighth-graders met the state standards, 43.8% statewide met them.

I decided to review the NAEP science scores for 2005, which were released last fall. I remembered that Andres Alonso said that New York City's students had done well on this test as compared to students in similar cities. Actually this turned out not to be true.

The city not only was significantly behind the national average, but significantly behind the average for central city districts in science. This is the first time that this has ever happened. New York City students are usually in the top tier of big-city districts, but in science our students did dismally, down in the cellar, with only Cleveland getting a lower score. In eighth grade, 64% of NYC students were below basic (equivalent to a level 1 on the state tests); 77% of black eighth graders and 73% of Hispanic eighth graders were below basic. Oddly enough, white eighth grade students in NYC also have a very low score; 39% were below basic.

Thus, NYC can boast a relatively small achievement gap between white and black students in eighth grade, because white scores are lower than in almost any other city tested. To show you how ridiculous this measure is, the city with the smallest 8th grade achievement gap between white and black students was Cleveland, which had the lowest scores of any city tested. Everyone--black and white--scored poorly, so the "gap" was smaller than anywhere else. So NYC's small achievement gap in 8th grade science is a function of having very low scores for white students.

Bottom line: only a small minority of our middle-school students know any science.

Here are the websites for NAEP science, 4th grade and 8th grade.


NYC Educator said...

It seems to me that the high stakes test at grades 4 and 8 focus on reading and math, so that's probably what kids get taught. While my kid's not in the city, she's in the state, and they've been testing her since kindergarten.

Her kindergarten class took a multi-day test called Terranova. It established that most kids in her class had excellent reading skills (though none actually knew how to read), but lacked in English skills.

The teacher told me that was because the English portion of the test was given on the final day, by which point the kids were no longer motivated or focused.

Still, those reading results were pretty impresive. I'm sure Mayor Mike would take credit for them in a New York minute.

Debbie Smith said...

High stakes testing provides better information on school performance to parents so that they can make the right choices for their children.

Furthermore, by removing district boundaries and allowing children to freely move between districts allows parents greater control over their children's education.

Likewise, by resuming local control over our schools principals, and in turn parents, can shape educational standards free from the influences of special interest groups.

And finally, attaching education dollars to each student provides greater transparency and will reveal how these monies are actually being spent. For more information on school reform, visit

Patrick Sullivan said...


Thanks for visiting but it seems like being in Oregon you are perhaps a bit removed from the issues on the ground here. We've had an ongoing issue with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his staff misrepresenting test results and graduation rates in an effort to declare victory here in schools reform. Education historian Diane Ravitch, in a series of posts here and on the Huffington Post has debunked the bulk of these claims.

In response to your point about testing, we are finding that when school leaders like ours care only about test results to bolster their own records, then children are forced to endure endless test-prep in the classroom and more meaningful education is excluded. See

Finally, the new funding approach proposed by our Chancellor has been hatched in secrecy by consultants with no input from parents. Yes, we have been presented with what they intend to do but they are rushing it in without properly assessing how school budgets will be impacted, especially those with veteran teachers. When questioned at my community school board meeting, Deputy Chancellor Grimm merely mused, "There will be winners and losers". This is no way to manage a system with 1.1 million children.