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  June 6, 2004

Making Progress on Our Future
By Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg

After long years of failure and stagnation, we’re reforming our City’s public schools. That’s what Federal law requires. That’s also what our duty to our youngsters demands. There’s no magic formula for turning the schools around; the job won’t be accomplished overnight. But over the last year, under our “Children First” school reform plan, we’ve made a good start. And that’s what the student scores on City math and State and City English Language Arts tests released last week demonstrate.

The scores were mixed but encouraging overall. In some grades there was noteworthy progress, even though in others there were setbacks. With more than 470,000 students taking these City and State tests, that’s not really a surprise. We’ll focus on making improvements where there were problems; that’s why the tests are useful. But first, let’s look at where there were advances.

The greatest gains were in math test scores. In the 3rd, 6th, and 7th grades, the percentage of students meeting or exceeding standards was the highest since the tests were introduced, five years ago. In the 6th grade, there was a 25% year-to-year improvement. Why? Well, since last September, when we instituted our citywide curriculum, there has simply been more math taught in the classrooms, starting with a minimum of one hour every day in the lower grades. And we’ve also introduced math coaches in the schools—expert and experienced teachers who help other teachers do their best classroom work.

There also was good news concerning the City and State English Language Arts, or reading, scores. Our 3rd and 8th grade students recorded their biggest one-year gains, and the highest scores at those grade levels ever. There also was heartening overall progress by students in our middle schools. In fact, New York City middle school students did better on the State ELA test than middle school students in any of the rest of the State’s largest cities.

In other grades, there were relatively small drop-offs in scores. But is that cause for despair? No! Looking at the results from the first year of any big undertaking—like, for example, our city’s historic 11-year success in reducing crime— someone could always find reasons to be discouraged. What’s far more important is the broad, positive trend these test scores reveal—a very encouraging sign that our classroom reforms are working. Consider this: Among 3rd grade students affected by our new promotion policy, the number who tested at Level One—which means that they’re working far below grade level—was about 11,700. That’s far fewer than had been predicted, which shows that the extra effort and attention to instruction we gave those youngsters earlier this year really paid off.

All our 1.1 million public school students are coming to the end of the current school year. These latest test scores show that more and more of them are learning the skills they’ll need to succeed in the higher grades and in adult life. They, their teachers, and their parents deserve congratulations on the progress they’ve made. There’s still much to be done before all our youngsters are achieving to their full potential. But these test scores show that our students, and our schools, are at last moving in the right direction.