High-profile charter school advocates implore NYC leaders to acknowledge spike in test scores

Charter school advocates in New York City are hailing tremendous growth on state tests as further proof that city leaders must embrace the charter-school movement.

New York City charters, which are publicly funded but privately run, outperformed the city’s traditional public schools in both English and maths in grades three through eight.

“If Mayor de Blasio needed any more evidence that City Hall should change course and embrace New York’s charter schools, he got it this week,” Jeremiah Kittredge, CEO of pro-charter school group Families for Excellent Schools, wrote in an op-ed in The New York Post.

“State test results and a new public poll offer irrefutable evidence that the city’s charter sector is the path to possibility for our highest-need learners,” he continued.

Forty-three per cent of students at charters schools scored proficient in English and 48.7% in maths, compared to 38% of public-school students in English and 36.4% in maths. Perhaps most surprisingly, the charter-school English proficiency figure is reflective of a 14% spike year over year.

Jeremiah Kittredge
Jeremiah Kittredge. Families for Excellent Schools

Some of that growth is likely related to changes in the way tests were administered this year. For example, students were given more time to answer fewer questions on the exams.

“It’s not an apples to apples comparison and should be viewed in that context,” State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia noted at a news conference last week.

Public schools in New York City also had big gains in 2016, likely related to the testing changes as well. English proficiency increased 7.6% at public schools.

Eva Moskowitz, CEO of the Success Academy Charter School network, lashed out at de Blasio and New York City Chancellor Carmen Fariña for touting the improvement as evidence public schools have improved under their tenure.

“An eight-point jump in English test scores is prompting Mayor de Blasio to take a victory lap, and Chancellor Carmen Fariña to have “a three-day celebration” and declare that she “can’t stop smiling,” Moskowitz wrote in an op-ed in the New York Daily News.

“Self-delusion is rarely a good strategy for effective management,” she continued.

Success Academy Bensonhurst
Success Academy students. Success Academy Bensonhurst

Moskowitz and de Blasio have long had a rancorous history, with many public skirmishes over the issue of charter-school proliferation in New York City.

In her op-ed, she launched into an explanation for why the improvement in charter scores should be heralded more than improvements at public schools:

“If you want to find real improvement, you need to look at schools whose scores increased more than the seven points that were almost certainly attributable to giving students unlimited time. There is a set of schools that meets that criteria: the city’s charter schools, where English proficiency increased by 14 percentage points, double the statewide average.”

But increases in proficiency scores at charter schools, and specifically at Success Academy charters (the largest charter network in New York City), will likely be met with scepticism. Success Academies has shouldered criticism for the way it achieves its stellar performance.

Last year, a New York Times report painted a vivid picture of the pressure students in the third grade and above felt as they took standardised tests. The same article described the public shaming of students for poor grades.

Earlier this year, a video emerged of a first-grade Success Academy teacher berating a student who could not answer a maths question correctly.

Those instances and other accusations that Success pushes out low-performing students adds a layer of complexity to evaluating the the increases in scores at charter schools this year.

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