New York Test Scores Highlight Gaps Among Students from Different Backgrounds

Public-school students’ state test results showed wide disparities by racial and socioeconomic background, prompting calls for more urgent action

With only one out of three black and Hispanic students passing New York’s tests in reading and math last spring, educators and advocates called Wednesday for more urgent efforts to narrow stubborn achievement gaps.

While about 67% of Asian students and 52% of white students passed state tests in English language arts, about 35% of black and Hispanic students were proficient. Similar gaps appeared in math for public-school children in grades three through eight, as they have for years.

Only 34% of low-income students were proficient in math, compared to 62% of wealthier peers, data showed. These scores come despite many years of efforts to close gaps through a mix of steps, including allocating more state aid to schools serving many at-risk children, expanding preschool, adding social services and trying to make curricula more engaging. Many advocates for struggling students say such moves haven’t gone far enough.

“These results reinforce the central equity challenge of focusing our attention, urgency and resources to support the groups of students who have been historically underserved in our education system,” said Ian Rosenblum, executive director of The Education Trust–New York, which advocates for equal opportunities.

 

State tests have changed several times since 2012, making it hard to judge long-term trends. This year’s scores can’t be compared with last year’s because testing was cut from three days in each subject to two.

“You can’t do it, it’s not valid, and I’m not doing it,” said the commissioner, adding that the next two years’ results will be comparable—before tests change again in spring of 2021 to reflect evolving standards.

Other tests show few strides in some areas. For example, an exam known as the nation’s report card, called the National Assessment of Educational Progress, has found that average reading scores for fourth-graders in New York City and statewide barely budged from 2007 to 2017 and slipped in math.

High opt-out rates in New York continue to muddy the picture from state tests. Last spring, about 18% of eligible test-takers refused testing, a dip of 1 percentage point from the year before.

Few New York City students skipped the tests this year. Most boycotters came from middle-income or wealthier districts, by state data. Many argue that testing narrows the curriculum, wastes time and doesn’t accurately reflect real learning.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he welcomed the test scores as a new baseline, and one of several measures to judge schools under his tenure.

This year 47% of city students overall were proficient in English and 43% in math. Statewide, about 45% of students passed in each subject.

Mr. de Blasio’s chancellor, Richard Carranza, said he would be the “Scrooge in the conversation” and stress that the opportunity gap remained too large, with educational attainment too often predictable by students’ backgrounds. He has promised to pursue the mayor’s agenda of expanding early education, literacy coaching, computer-science courses and other initiatives.

New York City charter schools outperformed traditional district schools as well as charters elsewhere in the state.

At the city’s charters, 60% of students were proficient in math, and 57% passed in English. Charter advocates called for lifting a state cap on charters that will soon limit their expansion. Critics say charters siphon money from public schools and some deter hard-to-serve students from attending.

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