MANHATTAN — How much weight does the fourth grade state English exam carry?
The exam can no longer be used as a primary factor in middle school admissions, but they are still used by many schools as a criteria to determine which students to admit, city school officials said.
So parents still stress about the fourth grade scores if they’re hoping to get their kids into a highly sought-after program.
And beyond that, many families insist their schools still "teach to the test."
That’s why Lower Manhattan dad Tom Goodkind — a CPA with a love for data — began sorting and reviewing fourth grade ELA results in 2002, becoming a local celebrity among his peer group for doing so.
And even though his children have since graduated the public school system, he has continued his annual data crunch, believing it can help parents understand which schools have the highest performers.
“Like many parents in New York City, I don't believe this dependence on the fourth grade ELA is fair or even rational, but I do believe that presenting these statistics to parents is important,” he said. “Poor fourth grade ELA results can place a child into a middle school that severely limit a child's academic career.”
That mindset seems to be shared by a lot of parents, especially in Manhattan’s highly competitive District 2, which stretches from TriBeCa to the Upper East Side — and which is home to a handful of selective middle schools.
In fact, three of the top 10-scoring elementary schools on last year’s the fourth grade English tests were in District 2: the Upper East Side’s Lower Lab School (No. 1) and P.S. 89 (No. 7) and P.S. 150 (No. 10), both in TriBeCa.
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But, as many education experts agree, test scores often reflect socio-economic status, and using them in admissions, often further exacerbates an already segregated school system.
In District 2, for instance, many parents and school leaders say the city’s middle schools don’t reflect the district’s diversity, and members of the district’s Community Education Council have begun discussing the possibility of having their middle schools set diversity goals.
Parents in Brooklyn’s District 15, which stretches from Boerum Hill to Sunset Park, also say their middle schools are segregated along race and class lines and have been calling for admissions changes to create more equity in their schools.
David Bloomfield, education professor at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, still believed the test scores carried important currency in schools’ admissions even if they’re not supposed to be used for “high stakes” anymore.
"Even if the tests are less important, [high performing middle schools] still seem to select for the same kids when asking for a portfolio of work,” Bloomfield said.
“Some MBA parent is helping put together their kid’s portfolio. Is there a real difference between that and a fourth grader’s test score?” he asked, adding that parents with the time and knowledge on how to navigate the middle school admissions process and open houses go a long way in helping kids get into certain schools.
Families have not only been pushing to change the system and make it more equitable, but there was also a 60 percent increase in the number of students who opted out of the state tests, which many believe only reflect larger inequities in the system.
Though last year’s scores went up, there remains a big racial gap. While citywide, roughly 59 percent of Asian and whites passed the English exam, only about 27 percent of black and Hispanic students passed.
In terms of the test score rankings, many of the city’s gifted and talented schools, which typically are in the top 10 of Goodkind's data, made the list again, including the Upper West Side’s Special Music School and Anderson School, the Lower East Side’s NEST+M and East Harlem’s TAG Young Scholars.
The South Bronx’s Concourse Village Elementary School and Sunset Park’s P.S. 172 both made the top 10 and seem to buck the trend since they are both Title 1 schools where nearly all of their students are on free or reduced lunch.
"We remain focused on building on these gains and others," Mayor Bill de Blasio said when releasing the scores in August, "to deliver equity and excellence for every public school student across the city, no matter their zip code.”