Mayor Bloomberg happily announced that English scores are up in city schools. 69 percent of students in Grades 3 through 8 met state standards for reading. That doesn’t sound so hot, and the statewide figure is 82 percent. But last year the city rate was 58 percent, so that’s an 11-point gain, and up 18 percent from 2006. And the percentage of students making the grade has been creeping up since Bloomberg took over the system in 2002.
Not so fast, says Juan Gonzalez at the Daily News. He quizzed education experts who found the jump difficult to believe. “After seven years of these improved test scores,” says one high-school principal, “how come the children we’re getting in high school aren’t reading any better and don’t show any greater love of literature?” Gonzalez points out that the biggest gains are at charter schools, to which poorer students who have trouble with English are admitted at a much lower rate than other students. He says to wait for the national assessment scores in November before celebrating too much. “I learned a long time ago that when something looks too good to be true,” says Gonzalez, “it usually is.”
One might counter that the gap between the test achievement of white students and black and Latino students has been dropping over the past three years. But others also see a disconnect between the numbers and reality. While the Post smells only roses, and yesterday criticized the teacher’s union and its allies for bucking the mayor’s school administration, the Neighborhood Retail Alliance calls the state numbers “watered down.” They question the numbers “trumpeted” by the Post in general: for instance, they find the rising high school graduation rates in Harlem State Senator Bill Perkins’ district — which the Post used to undercut Perkins’ discontent with mayoral control — unconvincing. “These rates mask the reality that high numbers of these graduates are unable to perform at anywhere near a college level,” they said.
Still, the numbers are indisputably higher, and casual followers of educational progress have little else to go on, unless they have children in the school system themselves — which a declining number of voters do.