Standardized test results for the last school year showed slight growth at the state and local levels in both English and math, and a slight narrowing of the gap between black and Hispanic public school students and their white peers.
In addition, the number of students opting out of the state tests slightly declined for the first time in five years, according to data released Tuesday by the state Department of Education.
In English, statewide proficiency results rose by nearly two percentage points to 39.8 percent for students in grades three through eight. In math, state results rose by 1.1 percentage points, with 40.2 percent of students being proficient.
Buffalo Public Schools also saw a slight increase in proficiency. City school results still fall well below state proficiency levels but sit within the middle of the pack among the five biggest urban districts in the state. In English, Buffalo recorded a 1.4 percentage point increase to 17.8 percent of students proficient. In math, city student proficiency levels rose by 1.1 percentage points to 17.2 percent.
"The important point is they are moving in the right direction," state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said of Buffalo's results. "Certainly, Buffalo has a lot of work to do."
Some major gains and losses in Erie and Niagara counties included:
- North Collins saw a 60 percent drop in its English proficiency scores from last year, and recorded the greatest percentage loss in English proficiency among all Erie and Niagara districts.
- Lackawanna Middle School saw the worst declines in both English and math proficiency, dropping from the teens to single-digit proficiency levels since 2016.
- Buffalo public schools still has 23 of the bottom 25 schools in English and math proficiency.
- Dr. George Blackman Early Childhood Center and International Prep in Buffalo showed noteworthy gains in English, as did Holmes Elementary in Kenmore-Tonawanda.
- City Honors in Buffalo held the highest proficiency rates in English this year, while Ledgeview Elementary School in Clarence had the highest proficiency rates in math.
- Niagara Falls has seen consistent improvement in both English and math proficiency since 2015.
Among the "Big Five" urban districts, Buffalo student proficiency results were lower than those in New York City and Yonkers but above those in Rochester and Syracuse. Rochester had the poorest test results among major urban districts with fewer than 8 percent of students considered proficient in both English and math.
More than half of Buffalo's schools made increases in proficiency in both subjects, and in 11 schools in receivership, the average building-wide increase was 1.26 percentage points in ELA and 2.23 percentage points in math, according to the district.
Superintendent Kriner Cash said in a statement that the pace must pick up, particularly as the district enters the second full year of the New Education Bargain initiative with students and parents for pathways to success.
“We expect to see larger percentage increases due to reduced class size in the early grades, along with a strategic focus on instruction across the curriculum — i.e. literacy, reading, writing, vocabulary, comprehension, numeracy, social studies, science, and technology skills," he said.
Elia praised the district for focusing on teacher and district-wide training.
"They have a ways to go. There's no doubt about that," Elia said.
Elia attributed overall increases in statewide results to teachers and districts developing greater comfort with the standards, and the fact that the state released 75 percent of last year's questions. That makes it easier for teachers to tailor their lesson plans, she said.
The percentage of students dropping out of state testing fell from 21 percent last year to 19 percent this year, the first drop since the movement started in the spring of 2012. A slight drop also was seen in many local districts. Elia suggested more families may be developing more confidence in the tests. She said students opting out of tests tend to be white and from wealthier districts, and generally higher-performing students.
"I can't say if they're the highest performing kids because they didn’t take the test," she said.
Elia also said she was pleased to see a narrowing of the achievement gap for race and English language learners. There were gains in all race and ethnic groups, and black and Hispanic students saw increases that are more than twice those of white pupils, slightly closing the achievement gap. But, she said, "troubling gaps persist." For instance, 20 percent of black and Hispanic students are proficient in ELA, compared to 47 percent of whites.
Also, female students continue to outperform male students across all race and ethnic classifications.
This is the second straight year the state has used the same test format, making results between 2016 and 2017 an apples-to-apples comparison, though it represents the first year some students had the opportunity to take the state tests online. This year, 28,000 of the 900,000 students taking the test opted for laptops and tablets.
The commissioner said the state is watching the transition from paper and pencil to computer-based testing, and getting feedback from teachers on the transition.
"We think that will grow, we want it to grow, so we're encouraging school districts," she said.
She said taking the assessments on computers decreases the time for the state to compile and analyze the results, and could mean getting the results out sooner. She said districts received the information in May.
The three-day tests are to drop to two days next year. The Board of Regents is expected to adopt new learning standards next month, but assessments will be based on the current standards through the 2019-20 school year. The new standards are to be fully implemented in the 2020-2021 school year, including state tests in the spring.