Falling Further Behind
Between 1990 and 1996, the number of white students in schools in New York State increased by just over 3 percent, or about 53,000, while the number of minority students increased by 18 percent, or more than 180,000.
At the same time, the number of public schools in New York with concentrated "high- minority" enrollments also increased, from 732 to 815. As of 1996, roughly one out of every four pupils taking the third and sixth grade reading tests in New York was enrolled in a high-minority school.(6) About 90 percent of these high-minority schools and students are in New York City.
As New York's minority population continued to grow during the early 1990s, the state's registration review program failed to stem the tide of failure in the public schools attended by most minority children. In fact, reading scores in high-minority schools declined, as shown in the tables on the following pages.
As illustrated in Tables 1 and 2, in New York's high-minority public schools between 1990 and 1996:
- The percentage of third graders scoring above the minimum dropped from 60 to 54 percent.
- The percentage of sixth graders scoring above the minimum dropped from 64 to 58 percent.
- The percentage of third graders scoring at mastery dropped from 13 to 9 percent.
- The percentage of sixth graders scoring at mastery dropped from 24 to 20 percent.
Table 3 compares reading test scores in high-minority public schools to scores in non-public schools that also have high-minority enrollments. Non-public schools consistently produced higher average reading scores during the seven-year period, as shown. The difference was greatest in the third grade, where scores in non-public schools held their own between 1990 and 1996. Sixth-grade reading scores in non-public schools with high-minority enrollments declined at about the same rate as in public schools, but the average scoring above the sixth-grade minimum in non-public schools remained 11 points higher as of 1996.
Other signs of failure
The below-minimum score is the main performance indicator scrutinized by the state Education Department for schools and students considered "at risk" of failure. Other measures of performance point to a worsening of the problem between 1990 and 1996. For example, in 1990, 114 high-minority public schools reported that more than half their pupils scored below minimum competency on the third-grade reading test, and 48 reported more than half below competency on the sixth grade test. By 1996, those numbers had risen to 214 and 112 schools, respectively.
While the DRP reading test is not reported in terms of grade-level ability, a statewide grade-level equivalency can be estimated annually by calculating the median score for all pupils taking the test in New York. Half of all pupils will be below this point, half above.
In third grade, about 29 percent of pupils in high-minority schools scored at or above the statewide grade-level median in 1996, down from 31 percent in 1990. In sixth grade, only 27 percent of the pupils in high-minority schools scored at or above the median in 1996, compared to 29 percent in 1990. As the literacy gap has grown, high-minority public schools have fallen further behind the statewide performance curve on both reading tests.
The "handicapped" catch
As if all this were not bad enough, the most commonly cited reading test statistics probably understate the extent of the problem. Prior to the 1996-97 school year, pupils in special education categories who took the reading tests were excluded from individual school building counts.(7)
Both New York City and the rest of the state exempt children in similar proportions, but with widely varying results that indicate the City is more likely to reserve these categories for children with serious learning problems.
In New York City as of 1996, 66,728 public-school students took the third-grade test, and another 57,825 took the sixth-grade test. Out of this total, 47,521 third graders and 38,775 sixth graders attended high-minority schools.
These figures do not include 8,959 children in special education categories, whose scores were reported only at the community school district level. Only 10 percent of New York City's special ed children scored at minimum competency in third grade, and only 11 percent scored at minimum competency in sixth grade. Less than one percent achieved mastery of reading in either grade.
Outside the city, 116,570 students took the reading test in third grade and 115,962 took the reading test in sixth grade in 1996. Out of these totals, 5,612 and 3,869, respectively, attended high-minority public schools.
Test scores for another 14,380 third graders and 15,234 sixth graders with handicapping conditions were reported separately, at the district level. Nearly half the third graders and more than half the sixth graders in special education categories outside New York City managed to score above the reading minimums, despite their handicaps.
There was also a huge difference in overall reading scores between high-minority schools in New York City and those in the rest of the state. In high-minority public schools in New York City, only 52 percent of third-graders and 57 percent of sixth-graders exceeded the reading minimum as of 1996; in similar schools outside the city, 74 percent of the children in both grades scored above the minimum.
Effective in 1997, the state is requiring that the scores of many students classified as handicapped be reported on the school building level for the first time.
Racial and ethnic differences
Within the high-minority category, schools in which more than 80 percent of enrollment is black produced higher reading scores than schools in which more than 80 percent of the enrollment consists of members of other minority groups, principally Hispanics.
However, scores in predominantly black schools declined at a faster rate than those with high concentrations of other minority groups between 1990 and 1996. The decline was especially steep in sixth grade, where the number scoring above minimum in predominantly black schools went from 68 percent in 1990 to 59 percent in 1996.
6. Schools in New York do not record the race or ethnicity of each student taking state-mandated tests. We and other analysts are therefore limited to working with data on the performance of all students in high- (or low-) minority schools, rather than with direct data on the performance of minority and non-minority pupils.
7. This, by the way, undermines one of the educational establishment's oft-repeated explanations as to why non-public schools outperform public schools in comparisons of test results -- which is that the public schools accept far more children with handicapping conditions. They do, but through 1996 these students' results were not included in comparisons of test results.
The Public Policy Institute of New York State, Inc.
111 Washington Avenue, Suite 400 | Albany, New York 12210-2289 | 518-465-7511