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Grade schoolers see slight improvement in English, math assessment scores

Students in New York City are better at math and English assessments than students in places like Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse. The exams aim at predicting performance in high school and college. Photo by AP photo.
July 23, 2012
Last Tuesday, the State Education Department unveiled the results of the April 2012 math and English Language Arts assessments taken by third through eighth graders. The modest improvements show that just over half, or 55.1 percent, of New York students reached or exceeded the English proficiency standard, up 2.3 percent from last year. Minorities continue to lag 37.2 percent of African-American students reached the standard, as did 40 percent of Hispanic students.

Math percentiles showed similar variance but were roughly ten points higher across the board.

The achievement gap is disappointing for Nikki Jones, education communication director of the Alliance for Quality Education. "The statewide test scores released today by the State Education Department show that a significant portion of New York's public school students are not being prepared for college or careers."

Student proficiency percentiles vary widely between different urban areas in New York state. The New York City, Yonkers, and Syracuse school districts embodied the statewide uptick, but even then, only a quarter of Syracuse's students reached the English standard, while more than 40 percent did in both of the other districts.

Buffalo performed only slightly better than Syracuse, but its performance trended downward from 2011. Rochester's performance was relatively abysmal, with only 20.7 percent of its students reaching the English proficiency, down from 24.4 percent last year.

Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch acknowledged the obvious. "There is some positive momentum in these numbers, but too many of our students, especially students of color, English Language Learners and special education students, are currently not on a course for college and career readiness."

She and New York State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. anticipate strengthening the student ladder to success. "Next school year," said King, "we start to implement reforms to make that ladder strong enough to support all our students as they climb toward college and career readiness."

Jones of the AQE has a different perspective of the future. "In September, students will return to classrooms with even fewer teachers and programs due to the effects of the recent state aid cuts. New York's commitment to funding equity must be restored. All students deserve an equal opportunity to learn and to become college and career ready."

The groups most in need of improvement are English language learners and students with disabilities. The first group saw 11.7 percent of its number met the ELA standard, while 15.5 percent of the second reached proficiency.

A student must reach level 3 or level 4 on a four point assessment scale to be scored proficient in math or English Language Arts. The exams were made more difficult in 2010 as part of a recalibration to better relate them to real-world preparedness.

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