Chancellor to bring back some departments, practices
By Mary Frost
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
On this year’s Common Core-aligned state exams, one of the highest scoring school districts in Brooklyn is District 15, New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina’s old stomping grounds. The district extends from Red Hook, through Cobble Hill to Park Slope.
Farina enjoys an enduring legacy in District 15, having spent more than twenty years honing her teaching and leadership skills at P.S. 29 (John M. Harrigan School) in Cobble Hill. She went on to lead the district and the region, before a stint as deputy chancellor under former Mayor Bloomberg.
In District 15, 41.6 percent of students scored at the proficient level or above (level 3 or 4) on the state English exam, the highest district score in Brooklyn.
In math, 46.4 percent scored as proficient, not quite the highest. (District 20 -- Bay Ridge and part of Sunset Park -- and District 21 -- Brighton Beach and Coney Island -- edged it out in math.)
Across the city, 28.4 percent of students met the standard in English, while 34.2 percent of students met proficiency standards in math – a slight increase over last year.
As a teacher at P.S. 29, Farina won the citywide title of Teacher of the Year. Under Principal Rebecca Fagin, 85.1 percent of the kids at P.S. 29 passed the English exam, and 80.6 percent passed math.
Farina also made her presence felt in District 13’s P.S. 8 in Brooklyn Heights. In 2003, P.S. 8 was a failing school with low enrollment. As head of then-Region 8, Farina carried out a top-to-bottom restructuring there, installing Seth Phillips as principal and making other interventions.
The school became wildly popular (and is now overcrowded). This year, 63.7 percent of students at P.S. 8 showed proficiency in English, while 60.5 percent were proficient in math.
Farina decreases emphasis on standardized tests
This is the second year that New York City kids have taken the tougher Common Core-oriented exams. Last year, when it was first administered, test scores plunged. Overall, test scores went up slightly this year across the city. In Brooklyn, scores are up 3.1 percent in English and 6.1 percent in math (not counting Special Education students).
Farina has long de-emphasized the use of standardized tests as a major factor in measuring performance. At a press conference in Brooklyn with Mayor Bill de Blasio on Thursday it was clear that she and the mayor were on the same page.
While declaring his support for the Common Core curriculum and tougher standards, de Blasio said, “Tests like this are only one measure. A school is not the sum of its test scores; there are multiple forms of assessment.”
The goal is to focus on improving student learning and meeting the whole needs of every child, not just “teaching to the test,” he said.
For admission into competitive middle schools and high schools, Farina said the city may factor in other considerations like attendance, behavior and teacher recommendations.
Still, de Blasio said the goal is ultimately, “100 percent proficiency, reaching every child.”
DOE said in a statement, “This year’s gains affirm the efforts of New York City teachers to integrate the Common Core standards into their instruction, as well as the Department of Education’s efforts to guide and support principals and teachers.”
Back to the future
Mayor Bill de Blasio has a long history with Farina, having served on the school board during her tenure as head of District 15 and Region 8. Both of his children attended District 15 schools.
Now Farina intends to bring back some of the educational practices that proved effective during her days in Brooklyn.
“As we restructure Tweed, we’re putting several departments back in place, including professional development and STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] training,” she told reporters.
There will be more time devoted to teacher training, with 80 minutes of training and peer-to-peer coaching on Mondays.
The Department of Education has reinstated the Intervention Department, and will be sending thousands of teachers to receive instruction in early intervention. “We’ve put the guidance departments back in place. Kids won’t do so well if they come to school with trauma and stress. We’re training guidance counselors; they’re receiving suicide training and are learning how to deal with all the issues kids bring to school.”
Farina said that DOE is ensuring four full parent conference days as well.
The mayor noted other changes his administration is rolling out at city schools. Most notably, roughly 50,000 children will be attending preschool in the city on Sept. 4, up from 20,000.
De Blasio said the city will be providing more after-school academic enrichment for middle-schoolers, and will be “collaborating with school communities across the city to help them excel.”
Tests still controversial
While applauding Farina’s de-emphasis of standardized tests, some parents and teachers at P.S. 29 feel she should go even further. In a petition they started at Change.org, parent asked Farina to remove student test scores as a factor in teacher evaluations and school admissions.
One parent, Naidre Miller, said on the petition website, “I'm not against testing, as a concept. I am against a single test that carries so much weight and has been proven to be ineffective at gauging a child's knowledge or a teachers’ efficacy.”
In April, many public school parents and administrators protested the state English tests, which they said were poorly designed and confusing.
At P.S. 321 in Park Slope, Principal Elizabeth Phillips complained that the questions "were focused on small details in the passages, rather than on overall comprehension, and many were ambiguous."
Selected District 13 and 15 test scores
Other high-performing schools in District 15 include M.S. 51, where 84.3 percent passed English, and 88.3 percent were proficiency in math (these figures exclude Special Education students); and P.S. 58 The Carroll School, where 77.9 percent of the kids scored at high levels in math.
At P.S. 39 (Henry Bristow school), 75 percent of the students showed proficiency in English, and 73.8 in math.
Not all District 15 schools hit the high percentages, however. At P.S. 24, just 13.1 percent of students scored at level 3 or 4 in English, while 19.9 passed in math.
Even low-scoring District 15 schools showed improvement over last year, however. At P.S. 24, scores jumped by 6.4 percent in English and 4 percent in math.
Brooklyn’s District 13, extending from Brooklyn Heights to Fort Greene and Bedford-Stuyvesant, shows lower proficiency rates than District 15, with 25 percent passing the English exam and 24.2 percent passing math.
But individual scores are all over the place, with some schools, like P.S. 8 (Robert Fulton) in Brooklyn Heights showing solid performance, while schools in underserved areas lag.
At high-profile M.S. 492 (Academy of Arts and Letters) in Fort Greene, 47.6 percent tested proficient in English, while 32.4 percent did so in math.
At Urban Assembly’s Unison School in Clinton Hill, 16.7 percent showed proficiency in English, while 6.6 percent were proficient in math.