Assemblymember Jim Brennan Comments on 2009 ELA Test Results: State Credits Improvement to Investments in Early Ed, Underscoring Points in Brennan Report Series

May 15, 2009
State Assemblymember Jim Brennan (D-Brooklyn) said today that test results recently released by the State Education Department showing student improvement were “welcome news,” and noted that the Department credited heavy increases in spending and the expansion of universal pre-Kindergarten as the primary factors in the improvement. Brennan has issued five reports on school results under mayoral control since February of this year, with the first report coming to virtually the same conclusion as Commissioner Mills and the State Education Department in their May 7, 2009 press release.

Statewide, the percentage of students in grades 3-8 proficient on the ELA this year is 77.4%, up 9.4 percentage points from 68% last year. The proficiency rate for all New York City students in grades 3-8 is 68.8%, up 11.2 percentage points from 57.6% last year. Mills noted that students’ overall progress can be attributed to statewide reforms such as increased resources, universal pre-K, curriculum reforms, and professional development.

These are the very factors that Brennan emphasized in his first report New York City Public School Student Improvement Before and After Mayoral Control. Brennan wrote that from 1998-99 to 2007-08, the education budget of the New York City schools had nearly doubled from $9.79 billion to $18.34 billion. He also noted that prior to the onset of mayoral reforms, “pre-K enrollments nearly tripled; early grade class sizes were significantly reduced; summer school programs were in place, and professional development expenditures increased by 179%.”

In last week’s press release Commissioner Mills echoed this observation, “…children who took the third grade test this year performed better still – showing that state foundation aid, pre-K, and rigorous instruction are paying off.”

In 1998-99 the New York State Regents Learning Standards were introduced and in 2005-06 the state provided a grade by grade breakdown of the standards curriculum in order to expand testing to all grades 3-8 (previously tests were administered only in grades 4 and 8). The establishment of the New York State Regents Learning Standards was one of the accountability reforms underway prior to the onset of mayoral control, which Brennan detailed in his second report “Accountability Reforms In New York City Before and After Mayoral Control.

Mills observed, “These results show that the children who began the grade-by-grade curriculum in the early grades are making bigger gains than those who started later.”

Brennan agreed with Commissioner Mills adding that 8th grade students, who reached 57% proficiency in New York City this year, were the beneficiaries of New York State’s vast expansion of pre-K, with more than 40% of them having an extra year of school. This cohort was in early grades just as class sizes were decreasing and they have also had grade by grade testing for the longest period of time, since they were tested in the 4th grade in 2004-05 and then again every consecutive year due to the implementation of grade by grade testing in 2005-06.

It is important to view the New York City results in context of other large districts within the state as Brennan did in his report Student Achievement: New York City and the Big Four, which compares New York State’s largest, urban districts. This year’s ELA scores follow previous trends. Statewide, students in grades 3-8 went from 61% proficiency in 2005-06 to 77.5% in 2008-09 – about 3.9% percentage points per year. This rate of improvement has been outpaced by most of the Big 5 cities; the highest rate of improvement comes from Buffalo, which averaged about 6 percentage points per year.

“What school systems in the State of New York have in common is the increased investment the State has made in education, especially in early education. School systems vary in how they are governed. Since the gains in student achievement occur throughout the state, we can attribute these gains to the factors they have in common,” Brennan noted.