July 18, 1997

New York 3rd-Graders Improve Test Scores in Reading

By SOMINI SENGUPTA

NEW YORK -- The reading scores of third-grade students in New York City's most troubled schools showed their greatest gain in eight years, according to the results of state reading tests released on Thursday.

The overall scores of the city's third-grade students also inched up, reversing a three-year decline, according to the figures released by state Education Commissioner Richard Mills. But the scores for students in the sixth and eighth grades showed slight declines.

The results of the state test, which was given in May, mirror the performance on another reading test given by the city school system in April. That test also showed an increase in scores for third-graders, though the results fell far short of the goals set by Schools Chancellor Rudy Crew, who has made improvement of third-grade reading scores a top priority.

On the state reading examinations, nearly 67 percent of third-graders met the minimum standards, compared with about 63 percent last year. But the schools on the state's list of failing schools reported the biggest increase: more than 54 percent of the third-graders met minimum standards, up nearly 10 percentage points from the previous year.

State education officials said they were heartened by the progress and noted that a dozen of those 87 schools had raised their scores enough that they could be removed from the failing list.

"After a long period of time, New York City has some good news, and New York City has some good news in some of the most challenging schools," Mills said on Thursday. "They have proved they can turn things around."

However, in a letter to Crew on Tuesday, Mills also identified four schools in New York City where test scores continued to sharply decline. Those schools, he said, suffered from a lack of sufficient textbooks, qualified teachers, and effective leadership.

The four schools are in a special district under the direct control of the schools chancellor. Three of them -- Public School 157 in the Bronx and Intermediate Schools 111 in Brooklyn and 193 in the Bronx -- have been in the Chancellor's District since last fall, and the fourth -- Intermediate School 74, also in the Bronx -- was placed in the district two months ago.

On Thursday, the chancellor's spokesman, Chiara Coletti, noted that the nine schools in the Chancellor's District were ones that needed the greatest attention. "Within one school year, turning around each of the nine schools in the Chancellor's District would have been impossible," she said.

Math scores on the state tests also showed improvement. More than 91 percent of third-graders met minimum standards this year, compared with 88 percent last year, and nearly 87 percent of sixth-graders met the standards, compared with 83 percent last year.

More students with limited English skills were exempted from both the state and city tests this year; in order to make valid comparisons, city officials said they readjusted last year's data to exclude those students.

Terry Astuto, a New York University education professor, applauded the improvement in scores but warned that it could be, in part, because teachers, even the best-intentioned of them, tailor their classes to the test.

"These are high-stakes tests," she said, "for kids, teachers and schools."


Copyright 1997 The New York Times Company