Ruling Paves Way for Massive Voting Rights Change to School Board Elections Across New York

On May 25 in White Plains, U.S. District Court Judge Cathy Seibel ruled that the at-large system used for electing the nine members of the East Ramapo School Board denied the district’s Black and Latino voters effective choice in its elections, violating §2 of the Federal Voting Rights Act (VRA). Under an at-large system every voter votes to fill each board position, allowing a disciplined majority to control all seats. A majority of the East Ramapo district’s voting population is Hasidic Jews. The School Board has long been dominated by members recruited and endorsed by the leaders of this religious community and elected at-large through the use of block voting.

Cancelled Regents Exams Present an Opportunity to Refocus on Quality and Equity

While many parents across New York State are home juggling their own remote work and making sure their kids are attending to their online instruction, there’s something those kids won’t have to do this spring: take Regents exams. These were cancelled by the NY State Education Department (SED) last week.  Read more…

How Low Can you Go?! Scoring “well below proficient” on New York State Tests

by Fred Smith, retired administrative analyst with the New York City public school system, with Robin Jacobowitz, Director of Education Projects at the Benjamin Center.
Each year, the New York State Education Department releases a statement summarizing how well students performed on exams in English Language Arts (ELA) and math. The April 2018 tests were given to nearly one million students statewide. In September, SED announced that 45.2 percent of students were proficient on the ELA tests, an increase of 5.4 percent over last year.

But that still leaves 54.8 percent who were not—over half of the 966,000 students who took the ELA. Who are these kids, the majority who do not meet the standard of proficiency? And what do their scores reveal about the test?

Our recently reported research, New York State’s School Tests are an Object Lesson in Failure, has focused on students’ floundering over a significant part of the ELA—the written, or constructed response questions. We were particularly interested in the students who received zeroes on that set of questions, indicating complete befuddlement when they tried to provide intelligible answers.

In this post, we look at the big picture, children’s overall performance on the ELA from 2012 to 2018, and further investigate the kids that the New York State Testing Program is leaving behind. They are the ones who, in SED’s terms, do not even meet basic proficiency standards on the tests.

As in our previous studies, we focus on children in grades 3 and 4, the youngest test takers. Further, it is important to note that there have been significant changes to the test itself in recent years—a new test publisher, fewer questions, and unlimited time to complete the exams—that thwart comparison and confound interpretation of the results from year to year, particularly the latter years. (more…)

There’s a Good Chance Your Kid was Baffled Reading These Test Questions. How About You?

by Fred Smith, retired administrative analyst with the New York City public school system, with Robin Jacobowitz, Director of Education Projects at the Benjamin Center.

Our recently reported research, New York State’s School Tests are an Object Lesson in Failure, indicates that many students have been unable to understand readings and write intelligible answers to Common Core-based questions about them on the statewide English Language Arts (ELA) tests.

Remember: Parents and teachers complained to no avail that reading passages on the tests were developmentally inappropriate, particularly for 3rd and 4th graders. Here we ask: Were these critics right all along?

A Recap
Just to catch you up, our first report concentrated on the overall impact of the statewide exams on the 1.2 million students taking them each year. This included separate analyses for the 440,000 children in New York City—37 percent of the State’s test population. These tests were prepared by Pearson Inc. We showed that they had the most dire effect on eight-and nine-year-olds after they were aligned with the Common Core Learning Standards. For third graders the switch to Common Core-aligned exams resulted in a surge from 11 percent of students who got zeroes—meaning their answers were deemed entirely incomprehensible—to 21 percent. And for fourth graders, the jump was from five percent to 15 percent.

English Language Learners, students with disabilities, and black and Hispanic students were particularly hard hit. This was clear from the data we obtained from the New York City Department of Education, which allowed us to analyze the test’s impact on each of these groups.

Two follow-up blogs dug into both the broad impact the tests had, and the specific impact they’ve had on minority and English-as-a-second language learners.

Read and Weep
Now, to the readings and questions that stumped our kids. (more…)

The Benjamin Center Update

An ongoing look at our research, events, and news coverage by and about our scholarship. Calendar November 6th The Benjamin Center’s associate director, K.T. Tobin, will be a guest of Radio Kingston talking about Sam Sinyangwe’s studies of police violence against African American communities. This will be ahead of Sinyangwe’s Read more…

Beyond Despair! New York State ELA Tests Are Failing Our Kids

by Fred Smith, retired administrative analyst with the New York City public school system, with Robin Jacobowitz, Director of Education Projects at the Benjamin Center

New York’s Common Core testing hasn’t worked.  The tests have consistently failed our children, especially the youngest kids, English Language Learners, students with disabilities and minorities. In our most recent research on this subject, we found that far too few students are able to tackle the written portion of the English Language Arts (ELA). For a closer look at this subject, see the entire series, New York State’s School Tests are an Object Lesson in Failure.

This series and report examined results for all 1.2 million students in grades 3-8 across New York State from 2012–2016 when Pearson, Inc. was the test publisher. More detailed information was provided for children in New York City by its Department of Education. Students there make up 37 percent of the test population. This allowed us to analyze data within subgroups for the questions that required students to construct a response.

Our analysis shows that a substantial percentage of children were unable to write comprehensible answers to five or more questions out of the nine or ten on each ELA exam. That is, they received a zero score on at least five of these questions, meaning that their responses were deemed to be “totally inaccurate, unintelligible, or indecipherable” by trained scorers.

We call this criterion the Threshold of Despair.

A dramatic change occurred when exams were aligned with the Common Core. NYC’s overall data show that in 2012 fewer than five percent of third and fourth graders crossed this threshold. But, with the advent of Common Core-aligned exams in 2013, the percentage more than doubled: yes, that means it got worse, not better.

(more…)

What You are Voting on in Tomorrow’s School Budget & Board Elections

Tomorrow, people across New York State will head to the polls. On the ballot? The election of school board members to govern local public school districts. And – very importantly – there will also be the chance to vote “yes” or “no” on the only budget directly put before the electorate, the one to support K12 public schools.

Think about this as you’re “pulling that lever”: the local share of school budgets, the part paid for by your property taxes, has been increasing over time because the state has been paying proportionally less towards the general fund, effectively pushing off a greater portion of the tab to you and your property tax paying neighbors.

Overall, too, we’re still under-funding our schools, with an impact that falls more heavily on schools in poorer districts where there are fewer local resources. Here is the trend over time in local, state, and federal funding, as a percentage of total revenue, for our Ulster County school districts:

(more…)

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