One Year's Flat Test Results Do Not Negate System's Progress

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The recent National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, results for New York City students have given its critics a lot of fuel to suggest that city children are not learning any better under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s school reforms.

They could not be more wrong. Not only do one year of results (which are not even down; they are flat) say next to nothing about overall progress, they show that students have indeed made significant gains since the test was first administered in 2002, and that the city’s most disadvantaged students are narrowing the achievement gap with their more well-off peers.

As Mike Casserly of the Council of Great City Schools pointed out in The New York Daily News last week, “... the significant progress that New York and other major city school systems have made since first taking the tests in 2002 and 2003 — and the aggressiveness of this city in putting into place much more rigorous standards — will serve the city’s children well for many years to come. At that point, no one will remember that N.A.E.P. scores in the city leveled off for one testing cycle, while Mayor Bloomberg put in place standards all city students need for a brighter future.”

The fact is the only people who are not better off under this mayor are the grown-ups who benefited from an old system, where there was little oversight and even less accountability.

Under this administration, educators have to work harder, are held accountable for their success and have seen many more of their schools closed after years of deterioration.

But this is all about turning the city’s schools into the kinds of places where classroom learning becomes paramount. Has Mr. Bloomberg made people angry and uncomfortable? You bet. Is that necessary to position our public schools to better serve students? Absolutely.

The New York State Legislature did not give the mayor control of the schools because they thought he was going to keep on keeping on. The whole idea was to allow a strong leader to push through the political inertia that had long stymied the schools from improving.

For the first time in this city’s history, educators are debating college readiness instead of graduation rates. That is because as a result of this administration’s policies, thousands more students are getting diplomas.

Critics like to point out only a quarter of those kids are ready for college — and the mayor’s team is tackling this issue — but college readiness was not even part of the conversation a decade ago.

Now, don’t get me wrong. We are not even close to fulfilling the promise of a great education for all children. I still am of the opinion that most of the schools in New York City are actually doing a poor job of preparing children. But thanks to the hard work of educators, students, parents and policymakers, the number of those types of lousy schools is significantly lower today than it was in 2002.

I think even the mayor was unrealistic about how hard it is to turn a ship heading down a waterfall. But we will get there as long as he continues to get behind the tough initiatives he spearheaded.

He must continue to close long-struggling schools and replace them with higher quality district and charter options. He must continue to push for higher standards at all grade levels. And he has to fight for the systemic shifts necessary to improve achievement in the long term.

That means insisting on strong evaluation systems for teachers and principals, continuing to push for meaningful tenure reform and ending seniority rules like “last in first out” that really will hurt children when (not if) we have to lay off teachers.

If he does that, then he will have accomplished his goal of preparing this generation and future ones to succeed.