Wealthy Districts Outpace Poor on State Exams

Thursday, August 08, 2013 - 04:43 PM

Schools throughout New York State had much lower state test scores this year. At School 16, in Yonkers, NY (pictured), between 10 and 30 percent of students scored a level 3 or 4 on the state tests. (ethicka/flickr)

Despite test scores going down throughout New York, the gap between rich and poor remains when it comes to student performance.

“The districts that are lower-needs districts significantly outperformed the other districts in the state,” said State Commissioner of Education John King at Wednesday’s press conference in Midtown.


Lower-need communities include wealthy suburbs, whose residents pay higher taxes to support education. Numerous studies have found strong links between a family's income and education level and student performance, because these children are usually read to starting at an early age and benefit from extra attention.

"Affluent kids generally have higher literacy levels due to the education of their parents," said Pedro Noguera, a professor of education and sociology at NYU's Steinhardt School. "Districts serving affluent children reflect this advantage."

Schools in wealthy communities also tend to have fewer English language learners, African-Americans and Latinos.

A little over 50 percent of students in low-needs districts scored at or above proficient (a level 3 or 4) on the state math and English Language Arts exams, compared with 31 percent of students statewide.

For example in Nassau County's Great Neck, which has traditionally spent more money per pupil than almost all other state districts, between 60 and 70 percent of students were proficient this year, which is twice the statewide average. Just about 10 percent of Great Neck students qualify for free or reduced price lunch, and the vast majority of students are white and Asian, according to 2011-12 state data.

Similarly high proficiency rates were found in districts like Roslyn, Long Island -- where 51 to 64 percent of students were proficient this year, and Westchester's Scarsdale -- where 61 to 75 percent of students were proficient.

Still, these high-performing wealthy districts saw their proficiency rates fall 20 to 30 points since last year's exams. In Great Neck, between 77 and 92 percent of students were proficient last year.

Nassau, Westchester Suffolk and Rockland county’s scores ranged from 33 to 43 percent proficient, all above the statewide average. But they still showed a big decline from 2012, when 64 to 78 percent of their students passed the tests.

Because this year’s exam was so different, direct comparisons with last year’s scores are difficult to make. When asked if the achievement gap has widened since last year, Commissioner King said he was not sure, but said the scores between low-needs and high-needs communities are “proportionally similar.”

Even within the higher performing counties surrounding New York City, districts with more needy students demonstrated extremely low proficiency levels, comparable to the poorest communities in New York City.

For example, Hempsted, Nassau County’s biggest town, showed proficiency rates that ranged from 5.6 to 12 percent. Last year, its rates were typically in the 30s and 40s. Hempstead is 96 percent black and Latino, and 84 percent of its pupils qualified for free and reduced price lunch in the 2011-12 school year.

Similarly, Yonkers public schools showed just 16.4 percent of students proficient in ELA, and 14.5 percent proficient in math. About 75 percent of students receive free or reduced lunch and 76 percent of students are black and Latino.

“We are clearly not satisfied with the results, but advocate for the standard’s increased expectations and the transition to a more accurate understand of true college and career readiness,” said Yonkers Superintendent Bernard Pierorazio in a press release.

There were signs of high performance in some low-income communities. Several New York City charter school networks touted scores that were well above average. But overall, 25 percent of city charter students were proficient in English - less than the citywide average of 26.4 percent. In math, 34.8 percent of charter students were proficient compared to the citywide average of 29.6 percent. Charters have traditionally scored higher on both exams, on average, than traditional city public schools.

As state education officials continue to emphasize the creation of a new baseline of learning achievement, schools in low-income communities will have their work cut out for them as they build up to the common core’s demanding new standards.


Comments [5]

Michael Holzman

Two points about the "peer effect" comments:

1) They seem to leave no role for teachers. Students in classrooms with peers who wish to learn also do so; students in classrooms with peers who do not wish to learn do not lear. What do teachers do?

2) There are districts where Black, Hispanic and impoverished students once did not learn at high levels now do so. These include Montgomery County, MD and the "Abbott" districts of New Jersey. In both cases the allocation of additional resources and such student and teacher supports as longer school days, summer school, better facilities and the like have had remarkable results without regard to peer effects.

Aug. 10 2013 07:14 AM

"It is not a law of nature that Black and Hispanic students do not learn well in school. They learn well enough in suburbs, without regard to the incomes of their own families."

In the "suburbs", they are not surrounded by the same classmates they would be if they were attending school in the inner city. I don't think funding and resources are the whole story. Take a kid from a poor, crime-plagued area and put him in a school in an affluent suburb and he will surely do better. Not because the wealthier school has more resources, but because he will be surrounded by a larger percentage of peers with high expectations.

Aug. 09 2013 06:20 PM
tom LI

Is anyone surprised by this disparity? The wealthy, wealthier classes have always taken education more seriously, because they see the results all around them. When someone from a poorer class gets the education and a good job, they move the h-ll out of no one sees the success. As it should be. This idea that the poor should go back and give back to the old 'hood is absurd.

Aug. 09 2013 01:24 PM
dave from huntington ny

There is a strong relationship between the % of 2-parent households that care about education and the success of the children in those districts. But the gov't, the school board and the media will continue to bury those facts. And those districts will continue to suffer.

Aug. 09 2013 11:20 AM
Michael Holzman from Briarcliff

The results of the 2013 New York State tests of students in grades 3-8 have been greeted with consternation, as they should be, but it should be emphasized that they paint a picture of a system—especially that part administered by the New York City Department of Education—that is far gone in failure. This is simply the most recent indication of that failure and the Department’s lack of attention to its responsibilities.

In 2006, long before anyone had heard of common cores, the one-third part of the enrollment of the New York City schools made up of White, non-Hispanic, and Asian students combined, were doing poorly. At grade 8 nearly 40% were reading below grade level. In that same year the two-thirds of the students entrusted to the system who were Black or Hispanic were being overwhelmingly failed by the system. More than 60% were reading below grade level. The gap between the two groups amounted to over 30 percentage points. In other words, the New York schools were not preparing most of their students to graduate from high school or to be well-prepared for college or careers. They were preparing most of them for poverty.

It is not a law of nature that Black and Hispanic students do not learn well in school. They learn well enough in suburbs, without regard to the incomes of their own families. They learn well enough in systems with needs-based funding. They do not learn well—no students learn well—in places where resources are systematically diverted from where they are needed to places where wealthier families live and pay taxes.

In 2009 test scores for all groups in New York mysteriously peaked, only to fall to earlier levels in 2010. The gaps did not vary during this exercise. The downward trend in scores on arguably more honest tests continued through the 2013 assessment. The drop in scores this year was not very far off the trend line. The system cannot educate even half its White, non-Hispanic, and Asian students to grade level and that more than 80% of the two-thirds of its students who are Black or Hispanic read below grade level in middle school. The gaps have not varied.

The disparities are stark. To take just one example, in the average school in Community School District 16, in central Brooklyn, only 6% of students perform at or above grade level in Mathematics at grade 8. In Community School District 26, a middle-class district in Queens, 56% of students in an average school perform at or above grade level. These disparate outcomes are on the face of it evidence of discrimination in resource allocation. They are not—need one say it?—indicators of a post-racial society.

Standardized tests are a bad idea and even bad ideas can be administered badly. These, however, simply emphasize what we already know: children of comparatively wealth families (which, in practical terms, means White, non-Hispanic, and Asian) have more resources devoted to their educations than do children living in poverty.

Aug. 08 2013 06:25 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.

Get the WNYC Morning Brief in your inbox.
We'll send you our top 5 stories every day, plus breaking news and weather.