Tuesday, June 24

Test score bounce: Looking at the numbers

New York City and State's big gains in test scores lead the news at the Times and Daily News, and are featured at the Post and the Sun, which focuses on charter-school progress. But amid the celebratory, double-digit party (and leaving aside, for the moment, critical questions about score inflation and comparisons with national tests), disturbing trends persist, and -- not surprisingly -- get far less play than testing's great leap forward.

Have a look at the test score "deck" from the DOE's Department of Assessment and Accountability, which breaks out scores by grade and race.

The achievement gap that yawns between white and Asian students and their black and Hispanic peers has narrowed, but continues far too wide: Overall, 80% of white students earned level 3/4 (grade-level and higher) on the ELA, compared with 54% of black students and 53% of Hispanic kids. That's a 26% or 27% gap. Even if it closes at the rate of 2 or 3 points a year (the recent, upward trend), that's 9 or 12 years, or many kids' entire public-school career, before the races achieve parity -- if white and Asian kids' scores don't rise, which they likely will (again, tracking Bloomberg-era trends).

The abyss that separates 8th grade's middling progress from 4th grade's high scores is even more threatening: About two-thirds of white eighth-graders, 65%, earned levels 3/4 on the ELA; just over one-third of black and Hispanic students (36% and 33%, respectively) posted similar scores. Taken together, 43% of the city's eighth graders scored level 3/4 -- which means that nearly six in ten will proceed to high-school officially reading below grade level.

Cue the party horns here (or not).

Update: According to DOE, the scores were embargoed on State directive, meant for school use in planning placements (as if year-round testing didn't yield sufficient data) and available to parents on request, but not publicly released until their presentation to the Regents yesterday.


Anonymous said...

There is another disturbing trend in the numbers. If you examine the three year trends in scoring at any of the supposedly elite schools, like Mark Twain and Bay Academy, that so many parents hoped to have their children attend, you’ll find that while the numbers of students passing (scoring a 3 or a 4) increased, the number of students scoring 4’s decreased. Concerns that NCLB would hold back the highest performing students are apparently entirely justified, even at schools where the entire student population is supposed to be G&T.

Anonymous said...

At the G&T middle school in Astoria's PS 122, a lot of the students also scored 3's and not 4's. When supposedly "gifted" kids aren't placing in the top 15% on a statewide test, there's a problem with the way kids are selected for the program.

helen said...

Thanks for this trend note, and for the cross-boro corroboration. Will have to look deeper into the g+t middles all across the city to confirm, but along with questions about how kids are chosen for these programs, we have to ask, what's the burnout factor? What's the cost of pushing our kids hard, even the best/brightest, if they top out early? (Not to mention the unlimited power of adolescent psuhback against conventional structures like school, parents, rules, tests, etc.)

Mom of a very bright and creative general ed child said...

Why are so many parents interested in sending their children to "Gifted & Talented" programs? Are their kids *really* gifted? My guess is probably not, but the school options for general education are not appealing to them, so it's their only hope of a "decent education" for their child(ren). If this is true, why don't we spend the energy and resources on improving general education programs?

I've always scored in the 99th percentile on all standardized tests and I went to general ed schools with the track system, so I basically got the best of both worlds - intermingle with kids of all ranges while receiving challenging instruction and projects. My best friend of 20 years always did miserably on tests and has a scored IQ of about 20 points lower than mine, so I never would have met her if I had been forced into a "G&T" program!

My point is that it takes all kinds to build a society and children should NOT be separated out and told they are "gifted", in my opinion. All people are gifted in some way and the intellectually and creatively advanced children can actually help those who are not as savvy.

I despise the concept of "G&T" and feel the city is doing our children a disservice by continuing this shameful segregation practice. I also despise parents who coach their kids to pass these tests - shame on you for putting so much pressure on a four-year old!!!

Okay, rant over.

Bronx_shrink said...

I think the numbers are saddening. I am an African American woman who is from Harlem and now works in Harlem with many of the Black and Latino students who are struggling. I think the reasons for the gap are complex and deep-rooted and too much to adequately address on this blog.

I think the trend of % of kids at the 3 & 4 level decreasing as they progress is very striking and due at least in part to the fact that NYC middle schools in particular are not well equipped to meet the needs of that age group. I see developmentally inappropriate approaches being used constantly with this delicate transitional group (academically, behavioral interventions, etc.). A uniform curriculum with one-size-fits-all policies simply can't work in a city as diverse as NYC.

I don't necessarily agree that G&T selection has been faulty. I agree about looking at the burnout factor. I have worked with a number of extremely bright 12 and 13y.o.'s who were failing because they had long ago lost interest in their bland curriculum. Motivation for achievement has to come from somewhere else besides being told they need to get a 3 or 4 on a test. Sadly, I also think many gifted teachers are having their hands tied in regards to what they can bring to their students.

Anonymous said...

to 11:28
I agree more resources should be allocated to gen ed. I think that every child should be given the opportunity to live up to thier full potential. However, that is not the reality that we face. Because of NCLB bright students are not being challenged. I applaud anyone who is willing to give their child a leg-up by putting them in G&T programs. If you don't get your child the opportunity to excel no one will.

Anonymous said...

To 11:28,

Tracking/leveling is now politically incorrect, so you won't see much of that in Gen Ed schools. What would your experience have been if you were in a Gen Ed classroom with 25+ mixed ability students and one teacher? This is the reality in many classrooms today.

It's easy to speak idealistically, but unless we address the issue of being able to teach all children at their level, we should not get rid of G&T programs.

Bronx_shrink said...

P.S. I think that the DOE releasing the racial demographics of the test scores is very divisive. There's no explanation or hypothesizing as to why this is occuring. It might be slightly more informative if they included SES info or stats re: parents' level of education, etc.

My mother is a veteran special ed. teacher, and she said that she is now having to keep all kinds of data on the racial backgrounds of her students in re: to testing. But none of the data she's being asked to collect will contribute to reasearch that speaks to causality or correlation.

Anonymous said...

Bronx Shrink,
I can skew there racial break down results. I ma the parent of two biracial boys and I have a graduate degree. My eighth grader consistently scores double fours on the standardized tests whereas my fifth grader scores high twos/low three on the ELA and mid threes on the Math.

I attribute this to the fact that they are different kids with different abilities but I also wonder if the fact that my older one has a Jan. and the younger a late Oct. birthday has something to do with it.

Anonymous said...

I find this blog report about the decreasing number of students scoring at Level 4 terribly discouraging:


I have my child in a good gen ed program. I've never been a fan of g+t at the elementary level. But I'm starting to wonder if tracking--at least in the major academic subjects--is the best way to go, keeping the kids together for most subjects but grouping them by ability for math/reading/writing. The fact is even the best teachers ARE busy, and the bright kids do get shortchanged in favor of those who are struggling.

Anonymous said...

Bronx Shrink:
I would agree that the black/white/hispanic only comparisons are polarizing - what about the other ethnicities? Are we to believe that children in the white population are the best performers? What if they're not? "White" kids are, however, the minority in many parts the city at least, and also in my neighborhood.

There is no silver bullet with this issue...but conversations should continue.

We made a conscious effort not to put our child in a g&t program in elementary siting many different things - among them, wishing to achieve a diversity that wouldn't have been attained at a g&t program. We wanted a situation where there were many levels of children. And we did just that and are grateful for the experiences our child has had.

Most people aren't aware that even in the g&t schools they are mandated to take 10% "other" children, so just because your child isn't a "4" student, don't be afraid to apply.