By Prem Calvin Preshad
In a report released Aug. 14, city students made modest gains on state English and math examinations. The boost was touted by the de Blasio administration as a reflection of the city’s successful implementation of Common Core standards, now in its second year since its inception in New York state.
The information in the report is broken down by Grades 3 to 8 as well as by demographics. These numbers reflected an increase from 2013, where students struggled with the new state tests.
Yet despite these gains in almost all grades, there remains an appalling disparity in the scores of black and Hispanic students and their white and Asian peers. This is undressed in the city Department of Education report.
In 2014, nearly 50 percent of Asian and white students, who comprise just a third of city public school students, earned a “proficient” score on the ELA. Two-thirds of Asian students and 55 percent of white students were proficient at math.
Just 18 percent of black and Hispanic students scored “proficient” on the ELA and black and Hispanic students were 18.6 percent and 23 percent proficient at math.
Students with disabilities and English language learners also scored low on these standardized tests. Just 3.6 percent of ELLs met state standards in English, a slight increase from the previous year, and 14 percent of these students scored proficiently in math, up 3 percent from the previous year, but still dramatically behind all city students.
The Common Core differs from conventional standards in that it encourages the use of more challenging materials to foster critical thinking as well as composition and supporting claims with evidence, according to the report. Math instruction focuses on the more practical and everyday uses of math concepts.
Last year, the state realigned its standardized testing to be more in line with Common Core, with an admission that the state’s students were not being prepared adequately for college.
English language learning is of crucial importance for immigrants or the children of immigrants. As was the case with generations of immigrants before them, public schools were for many their first encounter with English in a structured setting. Schools were also instrumental in instilling civic values, critical for participation in American society.
What these statistics show is a dearth of educational opportunities for immigrant students. Effective ELL programs, whether adhering to the Common Core or otherwise, need to be a priority of this mayoral administration, as have the implementation of other Common Core standards and universal pre-kindergarten.
With English fluency, these bilingual students will possess skills highly desired in today’s job market. Current growth in the city’s middle class is driven by college-educated young professionals moving to the city for career opportunities, and there needs to be a priority to empower city students to also compete for these jobs.
The universal pre-K initiative was a centerpiece of the de Blasio campaign. While this will be effective in cultivating good habits and structure, the weakest link remains middle schools, which are unable to properly prepare students for high school admissions, deepening the segregation in the school system, notably at the specialized high schools, where admission is by standardized tests.
While the mayor’s vision to help students at an early stage is laudable, this administration must bridge the gap between childhood and young adult education. In addition, there needs to be an admission that English language learning in this city is at a crisis.
A rising tide may lift all boats, but with so many of our students already underwater, satisfaction in incremental gains is not nearly enough to tackle this ongoing crisis.
The full report can be found at schools.nyc.gov.