State Ed Dept: Your kids are getting smarter every year!

By James Hufnagel

The New York State Department of Education’s “Measuring Student Progress in Grades 3-8 English Language Arts and Mathematics” report, released two weeks ago, has some very good news for Niagara Falls schools. Or does it?

Put forth as an update on the ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) as it has impacted New York State, the 47-page summary purports to serve as the basis for the state’s draft ESSA plan to be submitted to the federal government this month.

A federal law passed in December, 2015 that governs United States K–12 public education policy, ESSA replaced its predecessor, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), and modified but did not eliminate provisions relating to the standardized tests given to students.

Instead of scrapping ESSA, the Trump administration merely loosened some of its requirements moving forward. Submission of a plan remains a federal government mandate.

What the “Measuring Student Progress” document does is present table after table of numbers supposedly reflecting average student achievement scores for New York State in English and Math, broken down by grade level, region, school district size, student ethnicity, gender, students with disabilities, and Charter school vs. Public for each of four years from 2014 to 2017.

And across all of those categories, comprising over 40 pages worth of graphs and tables, those tests scores, without exception, are reported to have gone up each year from 2014 on.

The across-the-board improvements have taken place, of course, because of the Common Core-espousing educational policies of Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The State Education Department wouldn’t fudge any numbers to make him look good, now, would it?

The Niagara Falls numbers, of course, are what got our attention. Niagara Falls 3rd to 8th graders improved from 18% (2015) to 21% (2016) to 23% (2017) for math, and went from 15% (2015) to 23% (2016) to 25% (2017) for English, according to the testing bureaucracy. The only schools that didn’t show year-to-year improvement were Henry J. Kalfas Magnet, Maple Avenue and Niagara Street for English, and Kalfas and Maple Avenue in Math.

Geraldine J. Mann Elementary School on 95th Street had by far the best test scores among Niagara Falls schools.

Strangely, while the Education Department’s “Measuring Student Progress” report brags, “Overall, students statewide have made progress in ELA and math… The Big 5 districts made progress in ELA & math (and)… All race and ethnicity groups made progress, continuing to slowly close the achievement gap,” it doesn’t offer a shred of explanation as to why scores have improved steadily since 2014.

So we asked Niagara Falls school teacher Kristen Grandinetti, who replied, “I can only speak for the building in which I work… The reason for the improvement is better relationships with parents, teachers who are qualified and who care, and who encourage the students to do their best. Also, creating a non-hostile environment for them to do so,” which sounds to us, like business as usual.

In summary, nobody can explain why test scores went higher universally across so many geographic and demographic categories. They just magically did so. And the students have shown improvements. We know this because the Cuomo-instituted Common Core test scores tell us so.

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