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Getting Past the DOE on the 2012 Test Results

[Editor’s note: This post was authored jointly by Maisie McAdoo and Rhonda Rosenberg.]

Mayor Bloomberg turned the announcement of the 2012 state test results into a promotional event for his “reforms” on Tuesday, despite the fact that an honest appraisal of the scores showed that city students as a group made only modest progress in both math and ELA.  The mayor’s presentation ignored or downplayed results that didn’t fit in with his triumphal narrative, including the fact that the racial achievement gap widened last year in a number of categories.

State officials, by contrast, didn’t even hold a press conference, and said publicly only that the statewide results (which mirrored the city’s) showed “some positive momentum” but left too many students unprepared.

The mayor, however, orchestrated a big press function and handed out a shameless PowerPoint that reported highly selective numbers and featured a comparison of charters and new schools founded during his tenure with “traditional” city schools — i.e. the vast majority of schools in the city system.

But the numbers are there for all to see. “His” charters and new schools combined underperform the average school, in fact (see especially slide 6), and they gained only one to two points more than the “traditional” schools in percentages of students meeting standards in math and less than a percentage point in students meeting standards in English. That, according to the mayor, was conclusive evidence for the success of his reforms. 

Please. If these test scores — and remember this was the testing round where 30 questions had to be disqualified, the same round that included the “pineapple” passage — if these scores are evidence of Bloomberg’s triumph as steward of the city school system, then pineapples can speak.

Here are some tables and charts on the 2012 tests that may sober up Hizzoner:

“New” schools–and everyone else

The DOE PowerPoint presented results for charters, “new” schools and everyone else–labeled “traditional” schools. These traditional schools that the Mayor has all but disowned performed about 12 points better in math and ELA on the 2012 tests than the “new” schools he showcases as his own, but that was buried in the slides. He emphasized, instead, the small differences between the gains made by “traditional” and new schools.

Now, all tested District 75 students were included with the “traditionals,” so apparently the mayor didn’t have to own their results. DOE then graphed these results against the Phase Out and Turnaround schools that he wants to close — which actually gained in proficiency, by the way — to try to show how much better the “mayor’s” schools are. Most mayors take charge of school systems, not selected schools.

Gains in ELA Proficiency by School Type

# of District 75
Special Ed Schools
2010-12 Change
Proficient Students
2011-12 Change
Proficient Students
NYC Traditional
4.8 pts
3.1 pts
NYC New Schools
5.1 pts
3.9 pts
0.3 pts
0.8 pts

Gains in Math Proficiency by School Type

# of District 75
Special Ed Schools
2010-12 Change
Proficient Students
2011-12 Change
Proficient Students
NYC Traditional
5.8 pts
2.6 pts
NYC New Schools
7.8 pts
3.0 pts
2.0 pts
0.4 pts

There you have it–a performance difference of 0.3 to 2.0 percentage points.

Using the charters

Charter schools, which educate less than 5 percent of students tested, did do better than the “traditionals,” but for reasons that are widely-acknowledged: they don’t educate the same children. In NYC, the majority of charters don’t take high-needs special education students, have few English language learners, and “counsel out” a lot of kids with behavioral or learning problems before testing day. They also have the big advantage of a longer day and year thanks to generous private funding.

Charters did 5 points better in ELA and 12 points better in math in 2012 (and the tabloids dutifully trumpeted their gains on Thursday). That comparison is real enough. But there was much sleight of hand in the DOE’s reporting. DOE grouped the charters and new schools together and compared them to “traditional” schools, letting the charters’ strong results pull up the “new” schools.

Performance Gaps

Then there’s the racial performance gaps. The mayor noted that all racial groups had higher performance, which is true for the last three years, and a good thing. But the truth is that since 2006 performance gaps have mostly widened. The charts below show that in 2006, when the current tests began, the city’s black-white gap in ELA was 30.5 points and the Hispanic-white gap was 29.4. By 2012, both gaps widened, to 32.1 and 31.6 points, respectively. Similarly, in math, the white-black gap began at 30.7 points in 2006 and widened to 33.1 points by 2012. Only the Hispanic-white math gap has narrowed, by 4 points, since 2006. The NAEP tests confirm there has been no narrowing of NYC performance gaps since 2001.

ELA performance gaps between white, black and Hispanic students, 2006-12

Math performance gaps between white, black and Hispanic students, 2006-12

(The spikes in both graphs track sharp performance upswings as the tests became easier and the scoring corrupted between 2006 and 2009. The downturns followed the state’s 2010 correction.)

Special Ed and ELL students

Finally, the two most vulnerable subgroups of students, English language learners and students with disabilities, show no little to no relative improvement in ELA to their English-proficient or non-disabled peers. In fact, ELLs actually declined in ELA over the last three years. This is not surprising given that the administration has never, in the ten years it has held the education reins, instituted any kind of comprehensive education reform or program for either group. Students with disabilities in NYC also still perform far below their state counterparts.

Comparing ELA Scores, ELLs vs English-Proficient Students, 2006-12

Comparing ELA Scores, Students with Disabilities vs General Ed Students, 2006-12


Combining new schools with charters and comparing them with “traditional” schools is a political ploy, not an educational or intellectual judgment.  Waxing euphoric over modest gains misleads the public about the reality of school progress. Bloomberg’s new schools exclude the hardest to teach, and his narrow “performance” measures are not a substitute for solid curriculum and professionally respected teachers.

Find the full results (read past the PDF) here.



  • 1 Remainders: City drops class size from survey results highlights | GothamSchools
    · Jul 23, 2012 at 6:24 pm

    […] The UFT says the city’s test score presentation disguises ugly truths about its performance. (Edwize) […]

  • 2 Phyllis C. Murray
    · Jul 24, 2012 at 2:45 am

    The Crisis in Education Continues
    By Phyllis C. Murray
    There is a crisis in education. This state of crisis in the schools is not new. The minority populations have felt this for a very long time. In 1972, I began to chronicle the events in the school, as parent involvement became an issue. And now in retrospect, I can see that the idea of public education as a big business and its failure to produce a marketable product is not new; nor is the inability of our students to pick up the ladder of social and economic mobility, which rests horizontally at the base of all walls that surround the inner city.

    In 1964, Martin Luther King warned us about partially educating youth in the following statement: “huge masses are left handicapped in the shadows of ignorance and submerged in second class status.”

    “We are told of one stunning educational success after another, with ever more children passing the standardized tests. But in reality, the city’s public school students, particularly those students of color in inner city neighborhoods, are receiving a less than quality education.” —Education Planning Council Of Harlem, N.Y., July, 2006.

    “The system still fails to educate its African American and Latino students to the degree that they are ill-equipped to compete, academically and intellectually, with children of other racial and ethnic groups, attending schools in other neighborhoods. Our children are graduating at too low a percentage, we can also say poorly prepared for the challenges of higher education and fulfilling, lucrative new millennium careers.”—Education Planning Council Of Harlem N.Y., July 2006.

    National Assessment of Educational Progress: In 2007, there has been “no significant change in the average scores for Black, Hispanic … students compared to 2003 and 2005.” —Jackie Bennett Edwize Nov. 22, 2007 “T.U.D.A. and D.O.E. Response -Part II”.

    These statements are not new. Our youth are in crisis. And the educational system is in crisis. This means that we need to look for ways to end the cycle of failure, which is systemic throughout the impoverished inner city communities. Everyone should be involved in the process of ameliorating this situation. If not, that is the problem.

    Since one size does not fit all, we should certainly try to look at exemplary programs for our schools, which will work. Of course, there are success stories whenever these programs work and enable students to reach their academic potential. Nevertheless, we are constantly assessing the progress of students and tailoring instruction to meet their needs. The hours spent by effective teachers are incalculable. But at least as educators, we try because we are dealing with human lives. We try, because the alternative of not trying is too costly, as prisons await those children who have failed to become productive citizens. We try, because the school to prison pipeline is a reality for far too many of our students, as police in our schools takeover the role once reserved for teachers and administrators.

    Educators in N.Y.C. public schools know that smaller class size is a priority; adequate resources are a priority; staff development is a priority; and parent participation is a necessity. We know that we need highly qualified teachers, paraprofessionals, social workers, guidance counselors, psychologists, mentors, administrators, and union leaders. Surely, the schools that have the aforementioned cadre of professionals are fortunate.

    However, it is unfortunate that N.Y.C. has left parents and teachers out of the decision making process for too long. Therefore, I applaud any positive effort that is being made on behalf of children in N.Y.C. Certainly, we have a long way to go. But we must pull out all stops to make this broken system work.

    N.Y.C. Public School System was once a viable force for its earliest immigrants, like Henry Kissinger, who attended George Washington High School at night and worked in a shaving-brush factory during the day. Today, the N.Y.C. Public Schools must work for all of its students, again. Arthur Eisenberg is right: “The state must seek to break the cycle of discrimination and disadvantage”. Certainly, the future of America, as a strong nation, depends on it.

  • 3 Patrika Sherwood
    · Jul 30, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    Let’s NOW beigin to put all of what is said and written into action. Too much talk isn’t helping student success to flourish within NYC public schools as it should.