NYC’s top education officials claim victory after big increases in English test scores

Monica Disare

The city’s top education officials celebrated historic gains on state tests Monday — and argued the improved scores prove their education initiatives are working.

“This has been a three-day celebration,” said Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, speaking to the press at Tweed Courthouse, the Department of Education’s headquarters. “From the minute I got the news until today, I can’t stop smiling.”

For an agency that has suffered some high-profile struggles lately — including the departure of principal Michael Wiltshire from Boys and Girls High School in Bedford-Stuyvesant — the good news was presented as vindication.

The share of city students passing the English exam jumped by almost 8 points, and matched the state’s average for the first time. Math scores also inched up by roughly one point. Both Fariña and Mayor Bill de Blasio said the improved scores show that their approach to education policy, a marked departure from former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s, is proving effective.

“A lot is changing,” de Blasio said. “And this is pure hard evidence that these changes are working.”

De Blasio plugged many of his signature initiatives on Monday, including his college-focused “Equity and Excellence” agenda and his “Renewal” schools program, which provides extra resources and wraparound services to struggling schools. Overall, the percentage of “Renewal” school students demonstrating proficiency increased by 5.3 points in English and 1.5 points in math.

The test score gains come after a wave of bad press about the city’s turnaround program. Former State Chancellor Merryl Tisch said the program was “ridiculous” after Chalkbeat reported in December that “Renewal” schools have more modest improvement goals than other schools.

The state cautioned Friday that this year’s test scores are not an “apples-to-apples” comparison to last year’s test scores, since tests were shortened and students were given unlimited time to complete them for the first time. (Students across the state showed big gains in English test scores.)

But that didn’t seem to dampen de Blasio’s excitement. He argued that, if anything, the tests were more authentic this year.

“We think actually the new approach is a truer look at how kids are doing academically,” de Blasio said. “This test, because they changed the structure of the test, allowed a cleaner, better look at how a child is actually doing.”

This article was first published on Chalkbeat New York on August 1.