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How Are De Blasio’s School Improvement Plans Doin’? Some Answers from NAEP

“How’m I doin’?” Ed Koch used to ask, when taking the temperature of the Gotham electorate. How are you doing, Mayor de Blasio, specifically regarding New York City traditional public schools’ showing in the just-released “gold standard” assessment called NAEP, short for  the “National Assessment of Education Progress”?

Don’t ask. Or, more productively, let’s dig in.

NAEP, also referred to as  “The Nation’s Report Card,” is a set of  national assessments given every two years to a random sampling of 4th and 8th graders.  Here’s Mike Petrelli:

NAEP is our most reliable measure of national progress in education or the lack thereof. Because NAEP is well-designed, well-respected, and zero-stakes for anybody, it is less susceptible to corruption than most other measures in education. Unlike high school graduation rates, NAEP’s standards can’t be manipulated. Unlike state tests, the assessments can’t be prepped for or gamed.

For 2017 New York State as a whole was flat — up one point here, down one point there, all changes statistically insignificant — and pretty much on par with national averages (although, for what it is or isn’t worth, NYS spends the most per pupil in the country, $21,206).

But New York City is a different story. NAEP maintains a separate database of 21 cities that are part of “TUDA,” or Trial Urban District Assessments, that get their own scores separately from their home states. NYC is part of this group.  Here are NYC’s scores and any change from 2015:

  • For 4th graders in reading, Basic is 208, Proficient is 238, and Advanced Proficient is 268. The average score for NYC was 214, the same as 2015.
  • For 4th graders in math, Basic is 214, Proficient is 249, and Advanced Proficient is 282. The average score for NYC was 228, down 2 points.
  • For 8th graders in reading, Basic is 243, Proficient is 281, and Advanced Proficient is 323.The average score for NYC was 258, flat from 2015.
  • For 8th graders in math, Basic is 262, Proficient is 299, and Advanced Proficient is 333. The average score for NYC was 275, up one point.

Scores were essentially flat since 2015 and not one group reached Proficiency.  But here’s the lede for many education writers like Philissa Cramer at Chalkbeat:  “The only significant change since 2013, the year de Blasio was elected, was a 7-point decrease in the proportion of fourth graders considered proficient in math.”

In other words, while fourth graders’ scores went down “only” two points in math since the last NAEP assessment two years ago, fourth graders’ scores have dropped seven points since de Blasio’s first inauguration. This most recent decrease in math proficiency isn’t a blip but a statistically significant trend.

The new Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said, “today’s NAEP results show that we are not where we need to be on math education.We are immediately increasing professional development supports for elementary math.”

Even more disheartening is NYC’s achievement gap. Forty-eight percent of white 4th graders were proficient in math, compared to 16 percent Black students, a 32 point achievement gap, up from 27 points two years ago. The achievement gap in reading is two points higher than 2015, up to 32 points. Among Hispanic students, the achievement gap went up an astonishing 10 points in two years, from 21 percent to 31 percent; in math, the gap went down one point (statistically insignificant) from 30 percent to 29 percent.

Success Academy’s Eva Moskowitz said flatly, “a student of color in New York City is less than half as likely to have been taught to read or do math as a white student.”

Now, let’s be fair. First, the achievement gap increased across the country.  Second, one test should not be used to assess education policy.

Yet it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the Mayor’s school improvement programs aren’t working, primarily his Renewal Schools program that directs extra money towards long-failing schools. It was too soon to say that in 2015 when the program first started. But it’s not too soon to draw that conclusion from NAEP 2017 results.

So what should de Blasio do? Double-down on the Renewal program, directing more money towards an unsuccessful strategy? Continue to thwart growth of high-quality public charter schools where students of color (and others) are indeed taught to read and do math?

(From a 2012 NAEP charter school study that shows  that while traditional schools typically demonstrate higher student achievement, charters distinguish themselves in this way:

[T]he findings tend to favor charter schools when one focuses on black, Hispanic, and low-income students within the large cities. In many subject/grade combinations students in these subgroups in charter schools performed significantly better in 2011 than those in regular public schools. The performance of black low-income students attending charter schools in large cities is particularly striking. This group has shown a large increase in scores. In 2011 their achievement was significantly higher than that of similar students in regular large-city schools in grade 8 reading and grades 4 and 8 math.)

Mayor de Blasio has an choice to  make during his second term. He can plunge ahead, facts be damned, or recreate a strategic plan to improve academic opportunities for NYC’s schoolchildren.

I vote for the latter. He can start by shelving his “us versus them” approach towards non-traditional public schools, which deprives children, particularly low-income students of color, of academic opportunity. He should bite the bullet and close down failing schools when student outcomes don’t improve despite infusions of extra support.  He should continue his Universal Pre-Kindergarten initiative — a vital component of learning readiness, especially for low-income children — and attend to flaws. (See Alina Adams on this.) He should stop glossing over system-wide education deficiencies and be honest about all the work required to raise the quality of NYC schools for the 1,038,000 children they serve.

NAEP gives us the data. The question for the City’s families is whether Mayor de Blasio is prepared to take action. If he can acquire the political will and leadership to do so, we’ll answer Ed Koch’s question in the affirmative.

What do you think?

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