MANHATTAN — Seven middle schools landed in the top 10 for scores on both the state English and math tests for seventh graders — topping the list out of the nearly 500 other city middle schools, according to DOE data.
These top performing schools all had 90 percent or more of their seventh grade students proficient in reading and math, far above the citywide average of 28 percent for English and nearly 33 percent for math.
DNAinfo looked at performance on the exams for seventh grade since scores from that year are often considered important for high school applications.
Three of these schools are in Manhattan: the Upper West Side’s Anderson School and East Harlem’s TAG Young Scholars, which are both gifted and talented schools that start in kindergarten and take students from across the city.
Carnegie Hill’s East Side Middle School, which takes top-performing students from Manhattan’s District 2 (which includes neighborhoods such as TriBeCa, Greenwich Village and the Upper East Side), also made the list.
There are also three in Queens: Rockaway Park’s Scholars' Academy and Astoria’s P.S. 122, both of which have selective admissions. The other, Astoria’s Baccalaureate School for Global Education, another selective school, puts all its students through the rigorous International Baccalaureate (IB) program.
There was only one top scorer in Brooklyn: Borough Park’s Christa McAuliffe School/I.S. 187, a selective District 20 school, which saw about 90 percent of its students accepted to specialized high schools, according to InsideSchools.
And there were no schools that made the top of the list in The Bronx or Staten Island, according to DOE data.
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Notably, students from just 5 percent of the city’s middle schools make up more than half of the incoming class at the city's specialized high schools such as Stuyvesant or Brooklyn Tech, according to a report released in the spring from the Research Alliance for New York City Schools.
Researchers emphasized that it wasn't the middle school that propelled the student into the specialized high school, but instead the fact that the student got into the middle school in the first place.
“We were interested in whether where you go to middle school makes a difference,” said report author Sean Corcoran, associate professor of educational economics at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. “We were not sure if those schools added value or there was sorting [to get into those schools]. The evidence points to the latter.”
He said his research bore out that theory — finding that more than half of the students at top-performing middle schools had attended the highly selective test-driven gifted and talented programs in elementary school.
Critics have long said the city needs to do more to emphasize diversity when children are younger if it wants to prevent the kind of "sorting" that steers high-achieving students into high-performing schools at the expense of black and Hispanic students.
East Side Middle School’s principal David Getz acknowledged that “it’s not a secret” that most of the students who get accepted to his school are already proficient in reading and math.
“We are a highly competitive school to get into for general education kids, and that itself gives us a leg up,” he said. “We are a middle school that takes its population from the top performing kids of a top performing school district.”
But he also noted that his school is not just made up of top-performing students. In any given year, between 14 to 20 percent of the school’s students have special needs that require added teacher oversight.
“These teaching teams are terrific, and that also helps with our scores, with our more struggling kids,” Getz said.
He said the school’s curriculum is closely aligned with the state exams, especially for math, “though we spend a lot of time on collaborative problem solving and improving the ability of our students to sustain their focus and thinking on challenging problems," he said.
For English — where their curriculum is geared toward nonfiction — teachers start prepping a few weeks before the exam, he noted.
Soon, however, schools will be expected to limit the amount of time classroom teachers spend on prepping for standardized tests to 2 percent, President Barack Obama recently announced, amid growing outrage from parents and educators about the increasing pressure and class time devoted to preparing for high-stakes tests.
The changes aren’t expected to affect East Side Middle School, its principal said, though ultimately the decision will be up to city and state education officials to determine how the president’s decision will play out on the ground level.
“We are not against state testing in theory,” Getz added. “We look at it as a useful tool, just as a thermometer is a useful tool in assessing a child's health. It's just one tool, and it's not a treatment. It's an assessment.”
But he said he's not ready to throw out the test scores quite yet.
“We care about the scores because of their significance in the lives of our kids. That's why we care about them,” he said.