Excellence and Ambivalence

Downtown Elementary Students Shine When Measured by a Metric Some Local Leaders Find Troubling

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Pupils at six Lower Manhattan public elementary schools are recording stellar scores on their fourth-grade English Language Arts (ELA) exams, putting each of their schools in the top ten percent of all public schools City-wide.

Tom Goodkind

Tom Goodkind

According to an analysis by Tom Goodkind — a member of Community Board 1 (CB1), who has been compiling statistics about Downtown public schools for 15 years as a community service — mean scores for each of the local schools put them in the upper echelon of schools in all five boroughs.

At Tribeca’s P.S. 150, for example, 96 percent of the students who took the ELA test last year scored in the third or fourth quadrants, indicating proficiency. This places the school seventh among the 700-plus public elementary schools operated by the City’s Department of Education (DOE), and ranks it among the top one percent of schools overall.

P.S. 234, also in Tribeca, had 82 percent of its students in the top quadrants of ELA scores last year, ranking it 32nd among all public schools, and placing it in the top four percent of elementary schools.

Spruce Street School

Spruce Street School

The Spruce Street School, in the South Street Seaport neighborhood, was close behind, with 80 percent making top marks, ranking the school in 37th place, City-wide, which is in the top five percent.

The Peck Slip School, also in the Seaport neighborhood, catapulted 76 percent of its ELA test takers into the third or fourth quadrant, which ranks the school 49th among all elementary schools, and places it in the top seven percent of its peers.

P.S. 89, in Battery Park City, closely trailed Peck Slip, with the same 76 percent of students taking top marks. This earns the school a rank of 50 among elementary schools around the City, and places it in the same top seven percent.

Battery Park City School P.S.276

Battery Park City School P.S.276

Finally, P.S. 276, also in Battery Park City, supported 71 percent of its ELA test takers in earning scores in the third and fourth quadrants, which is 78th City-wide, and places it within the top ten percent of elementary schools.

“Our children are doing very, very well,” notes Mr. Goodkind, adding, “congratulations to our students and parents.” He also observed that, “the fourth-grade ELA score is one of the most important tests used to determine ‘choice’ for middle school. This is arguably a strong determining factor in a child’s educational career.”

“These rankings,” he continued, “are important because they rate public school results in a fairer way than the punishing test scores that have been publicized over the past few years. Simply ranking the schools gives parents and others a better sense of how our children are performing in one school versus another.”

Tricia Joyce

Tricia Joyce

Tricia Joyce, chair of CB1’s Youth and Education Committee, said, “I am very happy that our kids as a whole did well. Our schools attract great teachers and principals who make great choices in how to balance test prep with a rich curriculum. Kids tend to do better on tests, and in school in general, when they have strong family involvement and community support, as we have always had here. We are lucky to have the elected representatives who are quick to come to our aid when we have issues, like our perpetual school overcrowding challenges.”

But Ms. Joyce also voiced reservations about the increasing reliance on standardized exams that has emerged in recent years. “I have never been a big proponent of these tests,” she noted. “I find that, in general, the test prep that schools must do to ensure these kinds of scores can be at the expense of a rich curriculum. Our schools do a great job of balancing this, but I think they might choose [to focus on curriculum] if they could.”

“I also disagree that the outcome of the tests determines any student’s future academic success,” she added. “We all know kids who test well and those who don’t. It’s not always congruent with their grades or other kinds of academic achievement. I never took a test of this length and importance until I was a sophomore in high school. But these children are so young. To have this kind of pressure in fourth grade, with the perception that the tests hold such great importance, can affect a child’s self esteem at a crucial adolescent juncture. As a result, these tests can actually serve to undermine their success.”

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