One sad measure of Dr. King’s dream

New York State schools named after the civil rights leader have a dismal record of raising achievement

BY / NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

How do you measure a dream? Today marks the golden anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King’s visionary speech.

There are many metrics of the current status of African-American young people: school segregation, test scores, graduation rates, college attendance, income levels. The results are mixed.

I looked at a different indicator, one that’s admittedly unscientific but potentially revealing.

Nine New York State public schools that educate third- through eighth-graders honor King by carrying his name . They are located in counties and districts that range from Buffalo to Brooklyn, Rochester to Yonkers and Wyandanch (in Suffolk County) and across the tier of cities that includes Syracuse, Utica and Schenectady.

Taken together, 91% of the children enrolled in these schools are black (67%) or Hispanic (24%); 13% are considered to be limited in English proficiency. About 90% receive free (85%) or reduced-price (5%) lunches.

At these schools, 2,883 students took the statewide English Language Arts exams and 2,921 took the math tests — providing 5,804 test scores. Most students were in grades 3 to 5.

This was to be a pivotal year. The state Education Department called for tests that contained more difficult items, popularly referred to as the Common Core, purportedly to raise learning standards.

State and city officials forecast that the results would nosedive. They assured us that this was necessary to get children on track for college and careers. They’ve insisted the numbers will rise as teachers and students adjust to the material.

But what of the 8- to 10-year-old children whose educations, hopes, formative development and chances for future success are bound up in these wonderfully named schools where circumstance has placed them?

In 2009, when the state exams were discredited for being ridiculously easy, 55% of the heirs to King’s legacy were found to be proficient in reading, as were 71% in math. By last year, with the advent of tougher “more rigorous” exams, the results had fallen to 24% and 31%.

The April results released this month fulfilled the prophecy: 7% and 6% proficiency in reading and math at the nine schools.

The overall 2009, 2012 and 2013 statewide figures show English exam decreases from 77% to 55% to 31% proficiency over the testing periods. In math, the drop is from 86% to 65% to 31%. It’s a precipitous decline any way you slice it — with a sharper falloff in the nine schools.

As for the school in Brooklyn , obviously a limited sample, the percentages of students judged proficient fell 53 points — from 72% to 19% — in English Language Arts and 72 points (86% to 14%) in math between 2009 and this year. Citywide, the corresponding results were 43 points (69% to 26%) and 52 points (82% to 30%)

Another part of this unsettling story is revealed by the increased percentage of students who were at Level 1 in 2009 and now. Level 1 is described as being “well below proficient” on the tests.

This group grew from 2% to 32% and from 3% to 33% of the state test population on the English and math exams. At the nine King schools, the students deemed to be low achievers shot up from 6% to 63% in English Language Arts and from 7% to 68% in math.

King would not have accepted test scores that only confirm the profound inequities that plague poor kids. Nor would he have blamed teachers for the problem. Rather, he would have let his voice ring out about the need for sound education designed to prepare students to lead fulfilling lives and provide a means for overcoming economic injustices.

We honor King in words and monuments. It would be a far better remembrance to take actions to realize his magnificent aspiration.

Smith, a testing specialist and consultant, was an administrative analyst for the New York City public schools. He is a member of Change the Stakes, a parent advocacy group.