Each year, our students take state tests in ELA (reading and writing) and math. There is a lot of news about these tests and about the level of difficulty of the questions. If you are interested in learning more about last year’s tests, this link provides you with sample questions from the tests along with an explanation of the answers. The tests change yearly, so these will not necessarily be representative of next year’s test questions.
Overall, our students performed well on last year’s tests. Our school has been recognized as a “Reward School” for the 2015-2016 school year. We are one of 361 schools in New York State (including 24 charter schools) that had the highest achievement in the state without significant gaps in student achievement between subgroups. While we take test results with a grain of skepticism, we are gratified to see that our students were well prepared for the tests.
This week, the NYC Department of Education released two new documents. The School Quality Snapshot and School Quality Guide summarize state test, school survey, and Quality Review data. We have been looking at test data in multiple formats to understand it. We have compared our test results year to year (how do third graders do over years as well as tracking how cohorts of students score on these tests from grade to grade.)
We also look at other schools in the city to see how we are doing. We face a couple challenges in doing this. Often, we need to try to disaggregate data for our K-8 school to see how we are doing compared to K-5 and 6-8 schools. We also have to remember that our middle school is limited unscreened which means that we do not look at test scores or grades in admitting students to our program. Often, when we compare ourselves to other schools, they are screened — only taking students who score high 3s and 4s on state tests.
This data shows that we need to work on helping students improved on the State Math tests (some of this data might be skewed by the students who are taking the Algebra 1 Regents test). We are making considerable efforts towards helping students attain higher achievement in mathematics. We are fortunate to have Ariel Dlugasch as a full time math coach this year. She is coaching teachers on improving their mathematics instruction. She is also setting us up with a variety of mathematics PD. Teachers are studying mathematics pedagogy at City College through the MiTC program and participating in study groups with Metamorphosis, a math education think tank.
The data shows that we do well in helping students improve performance on their State ELA tests. But we also want to make sure we are improving our scores there as well. Teachers are focused this year on enhancing the clarity of their instruction so that students are better able to independently apply the skills they are learning to different situations. We are supporting teachers in this effort by sending them to professional learning opportunities off site and by having them work with consultants on site.
We also continue to support teachers and students through our work with the Teachers College Inclusive Classrooms Project. Staff developers from this organization help us to think through the use of learning progressions, articulating how skills build on each other. Teachers are using this work to understand student strengths and to plan for teaching high leverage skills — those skills that allow learners to learn efficiently. Examples of high leverage skills include understanding how the different models students are learning in math allow them to deeply understand and apply commutative and associative properties — key understandings and skills in solving algebraic problems. Another example is to learn how main idea and theme are linked. If I can retell the story and identify the main idea, then I can more easily identify the theme and support my reasoning with evidence from the text.
Recently, Deputy Chancellor Phil Weinberg visited our school. He noticed the impact of all the professional learning in which our staff engaged. In a follow up, he wrote me that he noticed that we are “cultivating a nurturing learning community, one that has an understanding of the responsibility educators must embrace to work hard in service of student learning.
The consistency and rigor of the instruction in the classrooms we visited was impressive. At every turn, students were deeply engaged in learning. I was particularly struck by the way students were learning with and from each other. Teachers were noticeably pushing young people to think for themselves as well as to think out loud with each other; to me, this is a clear result of the supportive learning community you and your dedicated staff are building. I was also impressed by your own knowledge of the promising instructional practices as well as the challenges facing every single educator in your building.”