Some reading drops Downtown, but schools outscore the city
By Anindita Dasgupta
Downtown schools showed mixed results on the state reading scores released last week.
While Lower Manhattan middle and elementary schools outperformed schools around the city in the English Language Arts exam, some saw drops in their scores from last year. The number of passing scores in I.S. 89s sixth and eighth grades decreased as well as Manhattan Academy of Technologys third and fifth grades.
The E.L.A. tests students' reading comprehension, writing and listening skills each year in January. The E.L.A. exam and the annual Math Assessments administered in March often play a key role in determining middle school placements.
Statewide, the percentage of eighth grade students meeting or exceeding standards scoring three or four on the exam increased to 41.8 percent from 36.6 percent last year. Furthermore, the city Department of Education said more New York City eighth graders received scores of three and four this year than any year since 1999, the first year of the test.
On the Lower East Side, New Explorations into Science Technologies and Math (NEST) topped charts with a perfect 100 percent of their middle schoolers passing the exam. Meanwhile, in Chinatown, 19 percent more eighth graders passed the E.L.A. exam at M.A.T. than last year.
Shuang Wen's middle school students also did well, with over 80 percent of each grade scoring level three or four, only dropping slightly from last year.
At I.S. 89 in Battery Park City, over 80 percent of each grade scored at level three or four, with some dropoff from last year's numbers. However, P.S. 89's fifth graders showed marked improvement this year, as the number of passing students increased by 13 percent.
Some fourth grade parents attribute the fifth grade's success to their small class sizes. "Our kids are in the overcrowded class," one fourth grade parent said. She explained that this year, two fifth grade classes were made into three classes and three fourth grade classes were pushed into two classes. "I guess it proves the effect of small class sizes right there," she said.
A Downtown Express analysis of fourth grade classes in December revealed that P.S. 89 had the third largest fourth grade class size in the city.
I think its really hard to compare two groups of fifth grade kids, said Ronnie Najjar, P.S. 89 principal. Its hard to boil it down.
While it may appear that the fifth grade students did better than fourth grade students, Najjar explained that many of the fourth graders did better on the E.L.A exam this year than they did last year on the third grade exam. Their kids did better with larger classes and with a harder test, she said. The fourth grade test requires more writing than the third grade exam.
In contrast, the fifth grade actually dropped by eight percent when compared to that grades fourth grade test results from 2006, Najjar said. They are two different groups of kids.
Najjar is pleased with the schools test results overall. We have a very rigorous program here, she said. However, she thinks more than a single test score is necessary to assess a student. Its not the only thing I look at. Its not the only thing teachers look at and I would hope its not the only thing parents look at.
Tribecas elementary schools did well compared to the rest of the city. Over 90 percent of third and fifth grade students at P.S. 150 passed the exam this year, with the fourth grade coming in right behind at 88 percent passing. P.S. 234 continued to the top with their high scores. At least 95 percent of each grade passed the exam, with a nine percent increase from last year in the fourth grade.
Tom Goodkind, a Battery Park City resident and P.S. 89 parent, ranked some Downtown schools based on the number of fourth grade students who passed the E.L.A. exam. Out of over 700 schools in the city, he ranked Shuang Wen School third, NEST fifth, P.S. 234 13th, P.S. 1 26th, P.S. 124 30th, P.S. 89 45th and P.S. 150 49th.
While M.A.T.s eighth grade passing scores increased dramatically from last year, their fifth grade passing scores dropped by 21 percent.
M.A.T.s principal is on maternity leave and the schools assistant principal did not return calls for comment.
Statewide, fourth grade students scores decreased marginally and the number of students scoring three and fours also decreased. However, state officials are attributing the decrease in part to the federal No Child Left Behind law regarding English Language Learners. The new policy requires students living in the United States for one year or more to take the exam. Prior to this policy, students living in the country for less than three years were exempt.
This year, 55,000 E.L.L. students in the city took the exam compared to the 24,000 last year. Grades three and four had the largest increase in E.L.L. test takers, according to the city.
English learners scores decreased slightly in grades three and four, which state officials are attributing in part to the increase in number of students tested in these grades.
Chinatown's P.S. 124 was affected by this policy change. This year, 63 more students took the exam than last year. Sixth-four percent of English learners tested passed the exam compared to the 33 percent of passing E.L.L. students last year. However, assistant principal Emily Macias-Capellan said the school didn't change their test preparation techniques. She said they simply applied their teaching technique to a larger number of students. She maintained that the school's standards were high for all students, but that the amount of support each student receives varies based on their individual needs.
Patricia Kwan, a third grade teacher at 124, said "even before this year, we had been preparing our students. She explained that they tried to integrate test preparation into their curriculum early in the year by asking students reading comprehension questions similar to what would show up on the state test. "We have discussions about what the story was about, some of the key details and possible inferences students can make about the characters," she said.
"We're definitely happy with the results. We were really worried before the test," she said. "We felt it was kinda unfair to expect some of these students to take this test when they were still getting a grasp on the English language." She went on to explain that some E.L.L. students needed to get used to basic testing skills like learning how to fill in answer bubbles on exams. "I guess they did their best, though!"
English proficient students also did well this year. The city reported gains in every grade for these students except grade three, which showed a tenth of a percentage point decrease. Sixth and eighth grade students performed especially well, with significant increases in the number of students meeting or exceeding standards.
In a prepared statement, State Education Commissioner Richard Mills said: Successful school leaders tell us they have high expectations for all children, focus on reading in every class, use proven practices that work, and act quickly to give extra help to students as they need it.
However, some District 2 parents feel that teachers and students should not get all the credit for high E.L.A. scores. "I think parent involvement has everything to do with E.L.A. scores in the Downtown area," said Downtown parent, Irene Daria, whose children go to NEST and Lab in Chelsea.
She has started a blog, "Helicopter Mom," publishing her findings on how much parents do to support their children in their academic work. She said teachers still dont pay enough attention to phonics and she had to teach one of her sons at home. As students get older, she said their parents find they have to put in extra hours of help themselves or through the aid of expensive tutors. Its like a rite of passage.