Update on state tests and opt outs, our meeting with new Commissioner, and last chance to sign petition on class size!

August 13, 2015

Dear Friends,

  1. The state test scores were released yesterday and they were nothing to brag about. As before, the vast majority of studentsscored Level 1 or 2, and there was only a very small uptick in those scoring Level 3 or 4 (supposedly proficient.) The big story was the number of opt outs, which statewide reached 20%, meaning there were about 225,000 students who refused to take the tests. In NYC, the percent of opt outs were far fewer – between 1.4-1.8%, but even therethe number tripled compared to the year before.

There are real questions as to whether the results have any validity, given the large number of opt outs and the flawed nature of these exams. If those students who opted out were included, there might have been no improvement at all in the overall proficiency rate, as the state admitted that the opt-outs were more likely to have scored Level 1 or 2 in 2014. In any case, the percent of Level 1 students in ELA increased and stayed the same in math, giving little support to the claim that our high-stakes testing regime is helping our neediest students succeed.

Even if the numbers and scoring methodology were reliable, which is doubtful, we know these exams are designed to confuse students. See my blog about a passage on the 3rd grade exam involving a talking snake, with questions that even the author of the story could not answer. Also, you can check out Carol Burris’ analysis showing that the achievement gap between racial and ethnic groups increased, the NYSED website for the test score and opt out data by district and school, and NY Times maps of the amazing opt out numbers across the state.

  1. On August 4, we met with the new State Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia, along with other members of the steering committee ofNYS Allies for Education. Though most of the discussion revolved around the defective state exams and Common Core standards and their damaging impact on our schools, I briefed her on three areas in which the state has failed to comply with the law: Ensuring that charter schools enroll and retain equal numbers of high-needs students, as required by the 2010 amendments to the charter law; that student data is protected, according to the 2014 student privacy law; and that NYC is lowering class size according to the 2007 Contracts for Excellence law. The Commissioner seemed interested and took notes; only time will tell if she improves the poor record of our previous Commissioner in fulfilling the state’s legal obligations to our children.
  2. Speaking of class size, pleasesign our petition, urging the NYC Chancellor to comply with the C4E law and reduce class size. The legal deadline for submitting our comments is Saturday, August 15, which is the day after tomorrow – so this is your last chance!
  3. Finally, I wasquoted in the NY Post on Sundayabout the various cheating/credit recovery scandals that have plagued NYC schools since the Bloomberg days and that have sadly continued under Mayor de Blasio. As I pointed out , the students at the most struggling schools desperately need intensive tutoring and small classes to improve their results, but if you look at the data at the schools on the “Renewal” list, more than sixty percent had class sizes of 30 students or more last year. All kids need small classes, but especially the students at these schools, and yet the administration has failed to act accordingly. What real chance are we giving these kids to learn and teachers to teach? This is the biggest scandal of all, in my mind.

Have a great rest of the summer and thanks for your support,

Leonie Haimson
Executive Director
Class Size Matters
124 Waverly Pl.
New York, NY 10011

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